Your mileage, of course, may vary, depending on the emotions that are stirred by reading the names in the previous sentence. But for many, “The Way I See It” could cause intense feelings of wistful nostalgia for a time and a person that sometimes feel very far away these days.
That is, of course, the whole point of the movie, which is in part inspired by Souza’s “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” a book of photographs that was itself inspired by the Instagram account Souza set up to troll Trump by throwing sly shade on the 45th president via photographs of Obama being, well, presidential (coupled with subtly trolling captions).
Early in the film, which features interviews with Souza and clips of the photographer on tour to promote “Shade” and another book, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” Souza announces his intention to “throw shade.” He also admits to being slightly uncomfortable speaking out against what he perceives as the diminution of the presidential office under Trump. But the shade he throws in the first part of the film is exceedingly subtle. Much of the first half of “The Way I See It” is a pretty conventional documentary about the job of White House photographer. (Although no great fan of Reagan’s politics, as he characterizes it, Souza notes that even Reagan hewed to norms and decorum that Trump does not. That is, Trump’s fans might say, part of his appeal.)
It isn’t until late in the film that “The Way I See It” starts to dredge up the feelings — just as it wasn’t until recently that the photographer started to feel freer about calling out Trump’s bad behavior. Director Dawn Porter, who also made the excellent recent documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” saves the film’s true bite for the end, when the humor of Souza’s Instagram posts — made more stinging, paradoxically, by their restraint — kicks in.
There’s some very, very funny stuff here.
But the laughs gradually give way to a feeling of not just sadness and loss for a quality we no longer seem to see very much of in political life and public discourse, but a sense of creeping despair that we may never see it again.
Photographs, they say, do not lie. That despair is tempered by a flickering sense of hope, kindled by Souza himself, whose pictures offer a reminder of what once was possible, and what might — just might — be possible again.
PG-13. At the Cinema Arts Theatre, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Woodbridge and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema One Loudoun. Also available Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. on MSNBC. Contains brief strong language. 102 minutes.