“If you really work hard at what you do, then things will come to you and you’ll be successful.” That is, according to Reina Ortiz, the American Dream. And who better, really, to understand the promise of the good ol’ U-S-of-A than the daughter of the the 44th President- or at least his twin brother from another mother.
Bronx Obama, directed by Ryan Murdock, follows the story of Louis Ortiz, a Puerto Rican/American living in New York trying to make ends meet for himself and his daughter. We’re introduced through home movies of the Ortiz family circa 2008 when a young, Illinois senator by the name of Barrack Obama starts making headlines.
He and his friends realize that he has an uncanny resemblance to Obama and their gears start spinning. From Times Square to low-budget Japanese movies, Ortiz does what he can to earn a few bucks portraying his “Bronx Obama.” A poignant parallel is drawn between the real Obama as he campaigns in the midst of the Great Recession and Ortiz trying to find work. Jobs and work are the priorities of both men.
After seeing Ortiz’s persona grow into an idea he can truly capitalize on, the documentary slows down to revisit his personal life in an effort to humanize our main character. It’s a necessary dimension of Ortiz so the audience feels more attached to him. But it feels as though Murdock only grazes the surface with minimal exploration into Ortiz’s actual struggles with unemployment and family tragedy. Luckily Ortiz’s daughter, Reina, is very open about her dad’s life and shares some raw truth and insight. Without her, the doc would have been emotionally flat.
Murdock really hits his stride when Ortiz decides to take his game to the next level and joins a troupe of comedic impersonators. This is the most interesting and entertaining part of the film. With his newly signed agent, Ortiz works on perfecting not just looking like President Obama but sounding like him as well. Teaming up with a faux-Romeny, faux-Trump and faux-Clinton, Bronx Obama crisscrosses around the U.S. with his political shtick. The audience clearly sees a transformation of Ortiz from a street performer to a ticket-show entertainer.
But the demands of the road can take their toll and all this time away from his daughter starts to wear on Ortiz. Overlaying Obama’s campaign rhetoric as he runs for re-election in 2012, the life lessons Ortiz is learning follow what the president is saying. Achieving the American Dream isn’t easy. The road to recovery isn’t quick. Murdock does an artful job of broadening out this one man’s unique profession into the goals of a president and his fellow citizens.
In a way, it’s a tale of two Obamas. Without getting too political, Murdock ties Ortiz’s fate to Obama’s 2012 re-election and that of the country. Ortiz needs four more years of Obama for his own career. Whereas divisive politics is often good for business, this doc pulls away from turning bright blue or red. Yet as with Ortiz’s life beyond Obama, the film doesn’t delve deep enough to a truly profound level.
Entertaining and interesting, for sure. But Bronx Obama won’t stick with you for long. Grade = B-