December 13, 2016


Starring Tika Sumpter & Parker Sawyers. Directed by Richard Tanne. (2016, 84 min).

Politics aside, the Obamas are arguably the most personable and seemingly down-to-Earth couple to occupy the White House since John & Jackie. They've always been sort-of a package deal, and while I don't know them personally, I'm convinced they genuinely like each other. A lot of people must feel this way, otherwise a movie like Southside with You wouldn't exist.

This love letter to Obama fans definitely preaches to the converted, those unconditionally charmed by the couple...not as politicians, but as human beings. For them, Southside with You is about as sweet and congenial as a movie gets, and what makes it work so well is our inherent knowledge of who they'd eventually become.

The film is about their first date back in the late 80s. Well, at least Barack (Parker Sawyers) thinks it's a date, as he's already quite infatuated with Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). She, however, is adamant that it isn't; the two work at the same corporate law firm and she feels dating a co-worker would damage her career. As we follow them around Chicago, he eventually wears her down, both through his charm and showing a side himself (which would someday serve him well as president) she didn't know he had; I'm specifically referring to an off-the-cuff speech Barack gives to inspire friends from his old neighborhood not to give up trying to get a community center built. It's one of the most emotionally uplifting moments in the film, along with the scene outside a Baskin-Robbins.

"Chicks dig me because I rarely wear underwear, and when I do it's usually something unusual."
While not a biography, we do learn quite a bit about the Obamas during their day together: their interests, their upbringing, the influence of their families and environment, some of the obstacles they've had to overcome (and still do), both as young lawyers and African-Americans. Yet the movie resists deifying these two; both are presented as everyday imperfect people, completely unaware of the what the future has in store; any semblance of greatness mostly comes from what the audience brings to the table. 

Both leads superficially resemble the future first couple, but their mannerisms and inflections (especially Sawyers) are remarkably convincing. As characters, we like these two enough that we're simply content to hang out with them for awhile, waiting in anticipation for Michelle to finally admit she's as smitten with Barack as he is with her.

Southside with You is essentially an 84 minute “meet-cute” which will have many viewers loving the Obamas even more than they already do. Others (including a lot of people I know) probably won't even give it a chance because of their own political views. That's too bad because the film is well acted, sweet and affably entertaining. But don't fret, detractors...perhaps someday, you'll get the story of Donald and Melania's first date (and it'll probably be a porno).

Original Artwork & Animations (in the style of Ernie Barnes, whose work is featured in the film)
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Richard Tanne.
Digital Copy

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