Southside With You
Starring Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers
Oliver Stone’s W. was lambasted on all sides when it hit theaters just before George W. Bush left office. First time feature film director Richard Tanne uses the same time frame to present a film about the Obama’s during their last months in office. Southside With You however is a love story, taking place specifically during the 24 hours of Michelle and Barack’s first date. Tanne’s script functions like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, as the characters talk themselves in love with each other. Tanne’s script is reaching for the stars, and doesn’t provide the viewer with lines worth remembering nor does the film wow the audience with any sort of cinematic brilliance. This is an intimate, small romantic film that at 80 minutes show’s how Michelle Robinson fell in love with the man that would become the President of the United States.
“How many times do I have to tell you, we are not going out,” Michelle Robinson (Sumpter) says to her parents, Barack, his church friends and even co-workers. Michelle, an advisor at a top notch law firm in Chicago, explains to summer associate Barack Obama (Sawyers), why their get together cannot be a date. He listens, occasionally puffing away on a cigarette, but determined to win over this woman not with charm, but decency and persistence. Halfway through their day spent discussing art at a museum, walking the streets of Chicago and attending a church meeting; Michelle, feeling more comfortable describes Obama as a “jive talking stereotype from Good Times”.
Will be interpreted as slow and uneventful for most, and it’s pace does inadvertently cause a bit of mind wandering.
Sawyers looks more the part than Sumpter, but perhaps that’s because we see Obama on television more than Michelle. Sawyers is careful to recreate but not imitate like comedic parodies have in the past of the current President’s distinctive speech traits and mannerisms. The story is told from Michelle’s point of view and she resists his charms nearly the entire length of the film. Southside With You will be interpreted as slow and uneventful for most, and it’s pace does inadvertently cause a bit of mind wandering.
When the duo finally arrive at their intended location, a local community meeting in a church, Obama speaks to the crowd like he has spoken to the nation many times. The camera focuses on Michelle’s reaction receiving the message as much as Obama delivering. “You definitely have a knack for making speeches,” she says afterwards. Southside With You doesn’t have to be a film about the present first lady and commander in chief, it’s authentic enough to just be a conversationally aware romance about two individuals during 1989. It does however have added weight for the audience knowing the rest of the story, since the film ends on a storybook first date.
A sweet film that’s more informative and educational than it is cinematic or entertaining.