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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Barry, a Netflix Original Movie, attempts to provide context and seasoning to a critical year in the young life of Barack Obama, the U.S.'s first African-American president. Set in New York as the 19-year-old "Barry" Obama negotiates the vast multicultural, vibrant, and politically-charged atmosphere of the city, of his first year at Columbia University, and of unexpected relationships, the movie uses this story to reveal how the man we think we know metamorphosed into a preeminent world leader. Hoping for a realistic picture of the events at that time, the filmmakers have not placed Barack Obama in a rarified atmosphere. Frequent use of profanity (i.e., "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "bitch" and the "N" word) is part of the culture. Young people drink beer in numerous scenes; hard liquor is consumed in a variety of "party" settings. While there is no actual nudity or observable sexual activity, a young couple kisses, embraces, and is often seen in bed. Cigarette smoking is continuous. A featured character admits to using cocaine; that and alcohol appear to disrupt his ability to function. One girl is glimpsed in bra and panties as she ingests the drug. Plus, content that includes racial issues, economic disparity, and one man's developing social conscience means this well-intentioned effort is only for mature audiences.
What's the story?
BARRY is based on one year in Barack Obama's young life. On his way to becoming the 44th US president, "Barry" Obama (Devon Terrell) was almost a typical college kid. He drank; he smoked incessantly; he swore; he fell in love. He pondered his place in the world, his relationship to his family, his emerging principles. But unlike most, everything was complicated by his multiracial identity and the unusual journey he'd taken from Hawaii to Indonesia to Los Angeles over his early years. From his first moments on the Columbia University campus at age 19, after an unpleasant encounter with a campus police officer, Barry encounters the fast-paced, diverse, sometimes hard-edges of New York City and the people who live there. As he becomes a part of the community (in pickup basketball games, at Columbia, and on the neighborhood Harlem streets) he meets, among others, a savvy graduate student (Jason Mitchell, who makes a strong impression), Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy), a strikingly wise and a liberal female classmate, and reconstitutes a friendship with an old acquaintance (Avi Nash). These experiences and relationships, together with a growing sense of his own priorities and his struggles to come to terms with an absent father and unconventional mother, are shown to significantly contribute to the maturation of the man who would be elected President of the United States in 2008.
Is it any good?
This film makes every effort to be wise, dignified, and compassionate. Devon Terrell turns in a fine performance as Barry. He doesn't offer an impersonation, but manages to deliver the essence of the man's speech patterns, his thoughtful expressions, and his always-controlled intensity. Basing their movie on Barry's first year at Columbia University, the filmmakers' goal, it seems, is to create the environment in which a smart, charismatic 19-year-old boy begins to embody the qualities that would later define the man. Supporting performances are first-rate. The script is low-keyed and convincing, and direction is solid. Of course, the key expression here is "based on." Audiences must always be aware that what characters say and do on the screen in a biographical drama such as this are, with few exceptions, not the actual words and actions. They're made up, hopefully, with the intention of being as true to the heart of the actual events as possible. Language, alcohol and drug use, and some sexual content make this movie best for mature teens only.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the characterization of the young Barack Obama in Barry feels true to the man who became a U.S. President. What qualities did Barry reveal in 1981 that are still recognizable in Obama? What qualities might be traced back specifically to the year dramatized in the film?
In a number of sequences, Barry notes, "That's not my scene." What did he mean by that expression? What did he learn about himself in those situations? Why is it important to recognize what works for you and stay true to those values?
Think about the character of P.J., the basketball teammate who was a Columbia graduate student. How did the relationship with P.J. impact Barry? What was his take-away from that friendship?
Why do you think the filmmakers included Barry's smoking, drinking, and swearing in the movie? Did it make Barack Obama, the man, more relatable for you? Did his behavior surprise you? How did Barack Obama modify that early behavior as a grownup role model?
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