Becoming, the documentary that follows the former First Lady Michelle Obama on the book tour for her 2018 autobiography by the same name, starts streaming on Netflix Wednesday, May 6. Released by Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company Higher Ground Productions and directed by Nadia Hallgren, the almost two-hour film carries viewers through Obama’s childhood in Chicago to her present-day reality of speaking in arenas with Oprah.
Most of the early reviews say the documentary isn’t as revealing as it could be—a Chicago Tribune review called it “carefully calibrated to a fault,” and a Deadline headline quipped, “If Michelle Obama isn’t running for something, somebody needs to tell this Netflix film.”
But the general consensus is it’s an inspirational, upbeat look at one of the world’s most admired women. Which, let’s be fair, is probably what a lot of us could use right now.
Here are some of the reviews of the Netflix documentary:
“Weaving in meetings with book clubs, church groups, support groups and students, Becoming unveils its true clear and present aim as a not-so-subtle saga of the journey and the battles that women, especially working-class women of color, travel and fight almost as a matter of course every day… In Becoming the film, like Becoming the memoir, Michelle Obama makes no bones that she never shared the belief that discrimination and injustice was on the way out just because her husband got into office. The strategy now seems to be how to reframe the rules of the game more so than the game itself.” -Dominic Patten, Deadline
“The visual strategy and editing rhythms feel part of a promotional effort, not an inquiry… [but] You don’t have to consider it first-rate documentary filmmaking of any sort to feel something watching it.” -Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“Even with extensive fly-on-the-wall backstage access, there’s a sense that Michelle Obama can’t really let her guard down. Therein lies the tension in trying to both step back from the spotlight and capitalize on her platform in order to champion causes and advocate for change… The former first lady also discusses being more than just an appendage to her husband, an accomplishment she has clearly achieved. Becoming is ultimately about the next step in that journey—finding balance and peace living under the public spotlight, even if its unrelenting glare means that there’s no going back to the life she knew before.” -Brian Lowry, CNN
“The film (streaming Wednesday, directed by Nadia Hallgren) is a thoughtful scrapbook, briskly perused—an inside look that never gets too inside. Actually, the whole thing could be somewhat skeptically received as an inside job, as so many documentaries about the ultrafamous are these days, with the line blurred between ‘subject’ and ‘producer.’ … To note this fact is not a criticism so much as a willing acceptance of the ground rules. Those who come here for their reaffirming booster shot of Obama-era hopefulness will get what they’re looking for. Those coming for something else—a news scoop or a bolder contextual take, such as Hulu’s recent Hillary docuseries won’t get that, but can still enjoy the sense of backstage access.
“Becoming is least interesting when it adheres to the structure of Obama’s well-known biographical highlights; it is most interesting whenever she is in the company of trusted friends, family and colleagues.” -Hank Stuever, The Washington Post