A movie about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date, where’s the dramatic tension in that? Right? As it turns out, Southside With You proves that knowing these two end up an impossibly cool and happily married power couple does nothing to dim our want for them to get together or dull the charm in their interactions.
He’s the summer associate at the law firm. He has a rusted-out old car with a hole in the floorboard, lots of ambition and a crush. She’s in her second year as an associate, taking care of her ailing father, acting as Barack’s advisor and absolutely not interested. She’s caught up in the grind, frustrated by the reality of things. He’s all starry-eyed optimism and who cares what the world thinks. It’s the kind of push-pull that rom coms are made of. And yet, there they are, the flashes of the very public people we can all recognize. The cadence in his speech, the fierce intention in her every action. It’s mesmerizing.
I don’t know where writer-director Richard Tanne got his intel, but even assuming (as is true of most all biopics) he took some creative liberties for time and clarity, he and stars Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter have done quite a job creating believable renderings of the President and First Lady as youthful upstarts. And quite apart from that, they’ve managed to make interesting the act of watching two people spin out a summer’s day in 1989.
Such dialogue-driven romances are tough to pull off, though many have tried in the wake of Before Sunrise. Southside With You isn’t quite so dreamy as Linklater’s indie classic, but that’s not a shortcoming. Jesse and Celine are wanderers, romantics — theirs is a courtship rooted in minutiae. Barack and Michelle live in a world that’s about confronting grim realities and finding new reserves of optimism at the start of every effort and undertaking. There’s is a romance between strivers, so it’s only appropriate that young Barack would pull out all the stops to win Michelle’s heart and mind.
Southside With You is a sweet, insightful and charming human drama that transports the viewer back to 1989, when Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing was ruffling feathers, and reminds us that as much as some things change, others still stay very much the same.
Southside With You
Director: Richard Tanne
Writer: Richard Tanne
Runtime: 1h 24mins
Images: Matt Dinerstein and Pat Scola / Courtesy of Miramax and Roadside Attractions