Nadia Hallgren's documentary offers a pleasant but not particularly revelatory look at the former First Lady as she transitions into post-White House life.

By Kristen Baldwin
May 06, 2020 at 03:50 PM EDT
Credit: Isaac Palmisano/Netflix

Filmed during former First Lady Michelle Obama's book tour for her 2018 memoir, Becoming (now streaming on Netflix) is a polished and pleasant portrait of a very public woman people love (or love to hate).

Director Nadia Hallgren follows Obama over several months during her 34-city tour, where she sat for interviews with celebrity moderators (including Oprah Winfrey, Conan O'Brien, Gayle King, and Stephen Colbert) in front of adoring stadium crowds. Becoming does its best to quash the FOMO of anyone who couldn't get tickets to those sold-out shows, featuring a series of lengthy excerpts from these grandly intimate events. Even in cavernous, darkened arenas, Obama is a natural storyteller — candid and witty, punctuating anecdotes with perfect pause-for-applause comic timing. Of her first date with future president Barack Obama, she recalls, "He was late! And I was like, 'Triflin' black man, late on the first day!'" (Other than archival footage, Mr. Obama only appears briefly in Becoming, as do the couple's daughters, Sasha and Malia.)

Revealing moments are somewhat fleeting, though they emerge — usually during Obama's small group chats with young fans. During one of these events, with a group of African-American students, Obama describes how sitting on the stage at Donald Trump's inauguration was "painful," because "it meant a lot of our folks didn't vote. It was almost like a slap in the face." Immediately following that scene, she elaborates in a voice-over: "I understand the people who voted for Trump. The people who didn't vote at all — the young people, the women — that's when you think, man, people think this is a game." It's the only time in Becoming where the former FLOTUS makes a direct comment about the current president; not coincidentally, it's also the closest thing Becoming has to a controversial moment.

We also catch glimpses of Michelle Obama, competitive sibling, in her playful interactions with her brother, Craig Robinson. ("Is that the style, to have your belt up so high now?" he asks her at one point, innocently executing the perfect neg.) But generally, Obama comes across as she always has — commanding but approachable, thoughtful but funny, sincere but guarded. But after spending eight years in the White House glare, that guard is understandable. "I want to take care of me," she says. "My life is starting to be mine again." Grade: B

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