Barry Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Avi Nash. Directed by Vikram Gandhi. Not rated. Available December 16 on Netflix.
Barack Obama’s presidency isn’t even over yet, and already he’s been the subject of two biopics. Like this past summer’s Southside With You, Barry uses a slice of the future president’s early life to foreshadow his later political career, with seemingly every interaction and relationship serving as fodder for his subsequent political views and actions. Set during Obama’s junior year at Columbia University in 1981 (when he went by the name Barry), Barry gives its story a little more room to breathe than did Southside, which was set over the course of a single day, and does a better job of making its characters feel like people and not just talking points.
At the same time, nearly every character surrounding Barry (played by Australian newcomer Devon Terrell) exists primarily as a signpost for his political development. The movie focuses on Barry’s relationship with his white girlfriend Charlotte (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), a composite character whose personality traits adjust according to the points the filmmakers want to make. When the movie focuses on its characters in the moment, it has some charm and insight about young people in this particular time and place. But too often it’s only looking forward to a future the characters know nothing about.