Becoming, the new Michelle Obama documentary on Netflix, seems like the kind of left-wing hagiography that mainstream media critics would lap up in Pavlovian fashion. Instead, the movie has fallen flat with reviewers who have called it “bland,” “self-celebratory,” and a “paper-thin” account of the former first lady.
The documentary is the latest collaboration between Netflix and the Obamas, who struck a lucrative production deal with the streamer in 2018. Former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice currently sits on Netflix’s board of directors.
Becoming follows Michelle Obama during her recent book tour during which she interacts with Americans from various walks of life. The documentary comes amid growing speculation that Michelle Obama could be Joe Biden’s pick as a vice presidential candidate. A group of Democrat operatives recently launched a committee called “Draft Michelle Obama” to push Biden to select the former first lady as his running mate.
The documentary is catching heat for comments that the former first lady makes about child-rearing. In the movie, she says that having children was a “concession” that cost her “aspirations and dreams.”
So far, reviews from mainstream outlets have been tepid at best and dismissive at worst — though critics’ love for the subject clearly remains undiminished.
Time magazine concluded that Michelle Obama “deserves more than a worshipful gaze” that the documentary offers. “The big problem with Becoming is that of all the people who don’t need a hagiography, Obama is pretty much tops on the list,” critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote. “Obama deserves so much more than the worshipful glassy gaze of this documentary; she’s so far beyond it that it can barely contain her.”
Indiewire was even harsher, calling the documentary “bland” and assigning it a C+ rating. “While the film’s star and subject is never less than dazzling, even her most inspiring moments can’t obscure a paper-thin exploration of a remarkable life in transition,” wrote critic Kate Erbland, adding that the doc amounts to an “unfocused collection of concepts that could all inspire their own films.”
New York magazine’s Vulture described Becoming as “self-celebratory” and “guarded.” “Becoming is an act of legacy burnishing, no doubt, but it doesn’t feel like it’s laying the groundwork for a future campaign from its subject, no matter how adored it makes her look,” critic Alison Willmore wrote.
The New York Times concluded that the documentary feels “routine” and that many elements come off as “stagy.” “It hits all the notes of a megastar choosing to share her life with the public,” critic Lovia Gyarkye wrote, adding that the movie “is not the candid Michelle Obama film that people might have been waiting for.”