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Review: Bronx Obama Documentary

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Synopsis: This is the surreal tale of Louis Ortiz, an unemployed Latino father who becomes an President Obama impersonator. When he is signed by a talent manager to perform comedy with other presidential look-a-likes, Ortiz starts to question his own morality in chasing the elusive American Dream.

I love trawling through Netflix and other VOD providers for documentaries covering random subjects. In between binge-watching dramas, learning a little about things you might not otherwise turn your head for is great: how else would I know about the history of Napster, the road to gaining good health after abusing steroids, or the inner workings of a super conservative Christian summer camp? And now I know what life is like for a Barack Obama impersonator.

Louis Ortiz, whilst shaving one day in 2008, noticed how similar he appeared to some unlikely candidate running for president. Ortiz had lost his job at a phone company recently and needed work, so why not take to the streets of New York City and pose for pictures for tips. It’s not bad work if you look like the person you’re impersonating … though, it didn’t seem to be bad work for the black Queen Elizabeth II impersonator I spotted regularly when I lived in London either.

Ortiz is hardly the perfect doppelganger for the current POTUS but from certain angles he looks better than the average Madame Tussauds waxwork. Evidently others found him to be quite the lookalike as is evidenced in Bronx Obama when we see Ortiz hired for roles in HBO’s Flight Of The Conchords, a Japanese film about an attempted assassination on the American president, and various international advertisements.

What is most to be gained from Bronx Obama, though, is that the lookalike life – even when one appears to be scoring a steady stream of gigs – is a tough one. We catch up with Ortiz when he scores a job on a political comedy show tour but whilst Ortiz looks like Obama, he is still yet to rid himself of his New Yorker mannerisms, vocal attitude and accent – and it proves difficult for a man with no history in acting to accomplish.

Documentaries generally have to orchestrate drama to keep us enticed whereas Bronx Obama supplies us with some good fly-on-the-wall drama when Ortiz and the comedy show’s producer are genuinely at odds on a regular basis. As an aside, it is interesting to note that during the glimpses we get to these comedy shows – in between terrible rehearsals – the audience is super invested in the lookalikes as they boo and jeer at the mock-presidential debates. It’s also incredibly funny that the Ortiz, the Obama impersonator and the Mitt Romney impersonator incidentally feel strongly about the politics of their likeness’ respective parties.

There are times when the documentary sags, for sure. Instances come from some seriously awkward moments when director Ryan Murdock follows Ortiz to his daughter’s school to ‘surprise’ her, believing the reunion between father and son after the comedy tour would tug at our heartstrings. Other less than exhilarating scenes others from straw-grasping editing of situations like on-the-road arguments about smoking in a rental car and the Bill Clinton impersonator being a messy hotel-roomie. Considering Bronx Obama has been filming for four years there is little substance within when we’re not focused on the comedy tour, and it could have benefited from focusing on the histories and development of all of the impersonators rather than just the likeable but uncharismatic Ortiz.

As far as random documentaries go, it’s decent; I certainly prefer Confessions Of A Superhero, though for a look into the lookalike life. Whilst Bronx Obama is just as focused as CoaS, it doesn’t have as interesting a narrative or varied character study to keep me completely interested; confirmation, perhaps, that not every project on Kickstarter is a complete winner. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve been told numerously that I strike a resemblance to Shia LaBeouf, so I’m going to go put a paper bag on my head and star in a Transformersmovie.

Bronx Obama is available now to view on multiple VOD services. You can find out exactly what they are over on the documentary’s offical website bronxobamamovie.com.

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