“Southside with You” (2016)
When we first meet Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers), he is getting ready for a date, though he is more concerned about talking to his friends on the phone and smoking one last cigarette. Barack gets into a beat up two door car and heads down the road. Michelle (Tika Sumpter) is also getting ready, but as she converses with her family, it’s very clear that she does not see it as a date but as a work experience with a colleague. Her interaction with her family is fun and familiar. It is evident that this is a close-knit, very warm and loving family.
Barack, after getting in one more cigarette on the way, stops in front of Michelle’s home to pick her up on a beautiful Chicago day in 1989. When Michelle gets in his car, she looks down at the hole in the floorboard beneath her feet and wonders just what she has gotten herself into. She makes sure that Barack is aware that this is just an outing with two co-workers and not a date. Michelle makes it very clear that they can’t date, as she is his advisor at work. Barack feels that they could date since he is a lowly intern (that no one is interested in) and the only thing she has supervised is showing him where the coffee is located in the building.
They arrive at their destination and much to Michelle’s chagrin; Barack has planned much more than just to attend a community meeting; he wants a trip to a museum and a walk in the park, maybe even a bite to eat, before attending the meeting. Reluctantly, Michelle agrees to the museum and soon the future President and First Lady are on their first date, though it will be long into the day before Michelle concedes that fact.
I enjoyed this romantic drama by director/writer Richard Tanne, as it has a nice light touch of romance with some smarts to it, much like the subjects it profiles. The film concentrates on two people getting to know each other, both confident in their abilities to express themselves and make a point. Tanne creates a world where we see the potential in both of these people individually and as a team. It’s the dialogue that makes this film interesting and fun to watch. As the two characters feel each other out, over topics ranging from the artwork used in the TV show “Good Times” to office politics (especially for two young minorities working in a big cooperate office) and how much harder they have to work than their colleagues. A good deal of their conversation seems to always head back to the struggles of trying to find your place in the world. They cover a number of subjects, even talking about Barack’s strained relationship with his father. As the conversation moves along and the day gets longer, we see the potential of this couple and how they just might work out.
Tanne’s script moves along at a nice pace, never stalling even though the film is almost entirely a conversation between the couple. The cinematography, by Patrick Scola, is crisp and bright, much like a spring day in Chicago. The musical score by Stephen James Taylor fits the film perfectly, with some late eighties tunes to highlight the mood of the scenes of this budding romance.
The heart of this movie and why it works so well are the performances by Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers. Sumpter gives a spirited and fiery performance as Michelle, while also being a little reserved, almost cold, especially early on. Sumpter plays off Parker incredibly well, with the patter between the two seeming natural and effortless. Sawyers does an excellent job capturing the future President’s speech pattern and mannerisms. Sawyers lets us see the real Barack, a man who is sure of himself and his abilities that he is almost cocky at times. Besides the moments between the two, Sawyers best scene is at the community meeting where Barack takes over showing his leadership and speechmaking powers. Sawyers commands the scene and shows the charisma that the President will show later on in his career.
This delightful romance lets us into a world of two people destined for great things, even if they don’t know they will accomplish it together. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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