Becoming review – fun but stage-managed Michelle Obama doc

Breezier than you might expect, Netflix's behind-the-scenes look at Michelle Obama's life trades insight for light entertainment

In an election year where much of the American populace is nostalgic for a time when they felt less embarrassed by the occupants of the White House, Netflix’s Michelle Obama documentary Becoming feels vitally “of the moment.” It’s this timeliness that gives Becoming an edge, its harkening back to a time of hope and ambitious view for the future ultimately overcoming its flaws.

For the most part, Becoming follows the former First Lady on her promotional book tour for her autobiography of the same name. While the chopped up clips from the interview themselves and some of the backstage prep do feel more like DVD extras than deserving of a full feature, things are a lot more moving when Obama meets supporters face to face.

The careful stage management of the rest of the film falls away in the face of the raw emotional response from ordinary people, and it’s touching to see how deeply affected they are by their encounter. Obama herself is a warm and witty figure, and her charisma shines through the screen in these moments. The First Lady staffers also make for fun supporting players, especially Secret Service Agent Allen. A picture of an utterly stone-faced Allen riding just behind Obama on a big slide is absolutely hysterical, a funny and humanising souvenir.

Becoming is far more concerned with this smaller scale than grander insights into life in the White House, and the presence of both Obamas as producers is evident with the lack of any harder-hitting political questions. This approach isn’t in itself a bad thing – it allows for a more breezily entertaining doc – but it does make for a slighter viewing experience than one might expect from the perspective of a key presence around the world’s most powerful office.

Becoming is now streaming on Netflix.

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