Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday doesn’t just love Barack Obama. She’s loving both Obama biopics. In Friday’s newspaper, she wrote “Remarkably, two movies have come out this year about the young adulthood of Barack Obama. Even more remarkably, they’re both terrific.”
The new movie is Barry, coming out on Netflix, with the screenwriter Adam Mansbach borrowing from Obama’s phony memoir Dreams from My Father, where Obama created the fake news of composite white girlfriends. Thankfully, composite white girlfriends are better suited to movie scripts than to million-selling allegedly “nonfiction” books (which we took apart here). Hornaday explained:
The chief foil for Barry’s explorations is Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy), an exuberant, openhearted fellow student whom screenwriter Adam Mansbach has created as a composite of the white women Obama dated in college. In one of Barry’s several vividly atmospheric scenes, Charlotte takes Barry to a dance club where New York’s free-form pluralism is on ecstatically hedonistic display. Still, when Barry meets Charlotte’s parents, a startling encounter in the Yale Club men’s room reminds him of his persistent sense of not belonging.
Wait a minute, Adam Mansbach, that name sounds familiar. Ah yes. Five years ago, he wrote the “total genius” bedtime story titled Go The F–k to Sleep (which Brent Bozell mocked here). This was followed by the book You Have to F--king Eat and the 2012 campaign video Wake the F–k Up, starring Samuel L. Jackson. Roughly a year ago, he gave a lecture at Brown University titled "Race, Profanity, Literature and Satire: Going the F*ck to Sleep in Donald Trump's America."
Hornaday was in love from the opening scene on the young and gifted Obama:
As Barry opens, the title character is on a plane over Manhattan, smoking and reading a letter from his estranged father, who has spent most of his son’s life in Kenya. Having grown up in Hawaii, reared for the most part by his white grandparents, Barack Obama — still known as “Barry” to his family and friends — receives a rough, intimidating, almost completely alien impression of New York.
Hornaday concluded that the movie is "well-grounded" in Obama's (mythical) memories, but adds more creative license for "more subtle truths."
Of course Barry takes place in 1981, just as concepts of political correctness, identity politics and unexamined privilege were taking hold in campus culture. If they’re not explicitly invoked, those public debates are anticipated in a carefully observed movie that, while clearly well grounded in Obama’s own books and recollections, uses creative license to convey more subtle truths about resisting reductive, existentially stifling labels. In that sense, “Barry” may specifically be about the outgoing president, but it will carry familiar resonance to anyone who’s ever been young, gifted and a little bit at sea.
Curtis Houck reminded me that Hornaday liked the other Obama-mythmaking movie so much that she put at end of her list of the 10 best movies of 2016:
10. Southside With You The thought of a filmmaker making his writing-directing debut with a speculative romantic comedy-drama about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date is fraught at best. But Richard Tanne stuck the landing with a movie that captured its characters and their time and place in late-’80s Chicago with insight and impressive authenticity. As the lead couple, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers delivered performances that were impressions rather than impersonations; by going back to the beginning, the film made a fitting goodbye to the couple that has occupied the White House for the past eight years.
Back when that film came out in August, Hornaday oozed over "a delightfully low-key portrait that is as universal as it is grounded in a well-chronicled public-private life."