Score: 2 Stars (**) out of 4 stars
Released last week to fawning adulation by the largely left-leaning film critics community, the new documentary "Becoming" (Netflix) featuring former first lady Michelle Obama is likely to become the most viewed programming of any kind in the history of streaming giant Netflix.
At one point near the middle of the film former president Barack Obama, speaking of his wife, says with a smile "It’s fun listening to her tell these stories. Some of which, you know, part of me is like, well. . . that’s not exactly how it happened."
This fleeting, breezy afterthought of a sound bite tells you all you need to know about this infomercial-posing-as-a-feature-film. It is — as Michelle states earlier,— "My version of reality."
In all complete fairness to Mrs. Obama, practically every documentary ever made has been produced from the perspective of the person/entity being discussed and/or the filmmaker’s vision.
There is nothing wrong with this per se.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and Mrs. Obama is in a position to do so with a huge audience which hinges upon her every utterance and gesture.
For approximately 70 of its 91 minutes, "Becoming" is redundant fluff and hyperbole on steroids. Like the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of shampooing, Mrs. Obama is shown standing in the wings at stops on her 34-city, (mostly) sold-out 2018 arena tour, waiting to be introduced by a cadre of celebrity moderators (Oprah Winfrey, Steven Colbert, Conan O’Brien, et. al.).
She is asked a predetermined set of softball questions (prepared mostly by her longtime chief of staff Melissa Winter), soaks in the applause and hosannas from fanatical admirers who paid very well for entry into a spectacularly grandiose book signing.
Roughly 10 minutes is dedicated to Mrs. Obama’s family life featuring her husband along with daughters Sasha and Malia making a couple of appearances each.
She reminisces while leafing through a scrapbook with her mother Marian and her brother Craig and only half-jokingly insinuates that Marion favored Craig over her.
Along with a trip to her childhood Chicago home, all of this stuff is pleasantly innocuous and the only thing of note revealed is that all involved adored the late family patriarch Fraser.
During the "setting things straight" portions of the movie, Mrs. Obama comments on race relations while growing up (they weren’t good) and during her early college years at Princeton where she states that a roommate moved out because Michelle was black.
Mrs. Obama states this event saddened her at the time– which is completely understandable.
The problem is — according to her book — Mrs. Obama didn’t discover the reason for the roommate’s departure until 2008 when she read a newspaper interview with the ex-roommate who stated she moved out because her mother was horrified she was sharing quarters with a black person.
The point is Mrs. Obama had no idea why the girl moved out at the time and wrote "I’m happy to say I had no idea why."
It’s not the only instance in the movie in which Mrs. Obama contradicts statements from her book.
What are arguably the most telling passages in the entire movie take place in the final 30 minutes, beginning with a visit to an Arizona high school where Mrs. Obama encourages Native American students to tell their stories of living in fear during the "Age of Trump."
Not surprisingly, none of the students can actually name a particular event where they were slighted or put in danger because of president Trump.
This serves as the perfect springboard to a similar visit to a Philadelphia high school where Mrs. Obama says (referring to Inauguration Day in January of 2017) "how painful it was to sit on that stage and that a lot of our folks didn’t vote.
"It was almost like a slap in the face."
It’s never made clear who exactly "our folks" are but she made this comment to an all-black group of students.
In the following scene while riding in a limousine, Mrs. Obama (via voiceover) repeats the statement and adding to it "I understand the people who voted for Trump but for people who didn’t vote at all — the young people, the women . . . that’s when you think, man, people think this is a game and it wasn’t just this election, but every midterm.
Every time Barack didn’t get the Congress he needed, that was because our folks didn’t show up. That’s my trauma." Never once does Mrs. Obama consider "our folks" didn’t show up was because maybe, just maybe they weren’t thrilled with candidate Hillary Clinton.
"Becoming" (and the book which preceded it) was made for the sole purpose of delivering safe and well-intended yet one-size-fits-all, generic sound bites designed to please and thrill the throngs already fully sold on the Obama brand. If nothing else, Mrs. Obama has clearly identified her target audience and has given them exactly what they want and then some.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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