Vikram Gandhi takes us back to the 80’s when future president-elect Barack Obama had just transferred to Columbia university. Lost in the wild landscape that was 1980’s New York, not knowing where he is or who he really is at that point, novice director Gandhi utilizes this position in Obama’s life to subtly place many questions about race, identity, and the quest of finding oneself’s.
One of the most interesting aspects of this film revolve around the idea of gathering insight on how such a powerful mind today seemed almost lost in youth. Questioning who he is and with the notion of home seeming somewhat estranged to him at that particular moment in time, the concept of following someone’s path towards recognizing who they are and having that person be someone who carries so much weight in today’s society is fascinating. While this sort of setting is usually used to bring a character down to Earth, Gandhi uses it to do more than simply make Obama seem like a humanized figure, in his depiction of Barry, Gandhi truly manages to fully represent Barry as a true human being. He gives Barry a designation but allows to be lost in the task of figuring it out, much like he gives Barry a persona but not a fully realized identity. Everyone knows who they are and what they want, but no one really understands who they are and how they’ll accomplish their dreams, director Vikram Gandhi humanizes Barack Obama by calling him Barry, dissociating him from his future position of power and placing him in a state of doubt we’ve all been through.
Acting-wise, Devon Terrell not only perfectly impersonates Obama’s mannerisms, but manages to fully insert himself into the state of mind of Barry at the time and deliver an incredible performance that deals with a presentation of self-doubt and a sense of destined success that I couldn’t see anyone else doing after witnessing Terrell’s perfectly nuanced demonstration of character. But, not only does Terrell grant us a great performance with Barry, but he’s surrounded by a magnificent ensemble of great young actors that also deliver with the same amount of excellence. Firstly, for those who watched The Witch, you already know what an incredible talent Anya Taylor-Joy and if you need some reaffirming just check out Barry because she’s phenomenal. Not only does she have the ability to ground every character she takes on in reality, but Taylor-Joy also brings a wondrous magnetism to her roles that glues your eyes to her every moment on-screen. Ellar Coltrane from Boyhood also has a brief role in Barry, playing Barry’s roommate, whom he strikes a great real roommate-type relationship with. Jason Mitchell is as great as always and also brings that naturalism Taylor-Joy showcased to his role as well and last but not least, there’s Avi Nash who plays Barry’s partying acquaintance that does an amazing job in delivering the comedic aspects this film has to offer.
Barry’s a gem, a beautiful, touching, small piece of cinema withholding an inner greatness at its core. Both brilliant acting and directing is on display, not only that but Gandhi also does an amazing job at posing philosophical questioning that works perfectly with the film’s themes. I believe Barry to be one of last year’s most undervalued films, one I could see myself returning to time and time again when issues of identity and place ever pop in my mind.