Set in Chicago during the summer of 1989, Richard Tanne’s Southside with You beautifully chronicles the first date between Barack and Michelle Obama.
A young Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) tries to win over Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) on their first date. Michelle insist they are only going to a community meeting while Barack has a full day planned that includes a museum visit, ice cream, and a movie.
Michelle reluctantly goes along with the plan and the two of them stroll through the streets of Chicago, sharing anecdotes from their personal lives – everything from family to careers. The more Michelle resists the idea of a date, the more Barack does his best to persuade her that they’re indeed on a date.
Directed and written by Tanne, the film follows a formula similar to Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ series. It’s an intimate story focused on two subjects and what they’re experiencing. It feels like the camera is eavesdropping on a date and does its best not to acknowledge anyone else. Often times, the sign of a great date is feeling like you’re the only two people in the world – Tanne’s directing style perfectly captures that feeling.
The story is packed with a lot of fun moments, but three really amazing scenes stood out. The first being Michelle’s initial objection to being on a date. The second is the community meeting. The third is the conversation that takes place after watching Do the Right Thing. All three scenes are phenomenal. There’s an authenticity in how Parker and Sumpter engage in those scenes that makes every word spoken, feel convincing.
Speaking of Parker Sawyer, he absolutely nails Barack’s speech patterns and mannerisms. His performance is different than any comedic parodies of the President. Parker was able to improvise since he was playing Barack as a bachelor. During this time in his life, Barack wasn’t the polished politician the world’s seen the past 10 years. He’s a bachelor and he lives like a bachelor. This includes Barack smoking, and smoking often. This also includes a messy house and a car with rusted out floorboards.
I don’t know if anyone can mimic Michelle Obama, but Tika Sumpter does an incredible job. She encompasses the strength and poise that Americans have grown to love about the First Lady. Sumpter gives one of the best performances of the year. In a perfect world, she’d be the front-runner for Best Actress at the Academy Awards this year. Even those familiar with Sumpter’s work will be amazed with the range she shows. Sumpter’s staking her claim as one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood today, and she deserves all the praise that’s coming her way.
One of the more interesting things in this film is the city of Chicago. Everywhere the camera follows the couple, there are people holding hands and showing love to each other all throughout the streets. With as much news coverage as Chicago gets for its gun violence, it is refreshing to see Chicago as a beautiful city full of loving people and families.
Tanne smartly stays away from any winks or nods to the presidency or the two of them getting married one day. The film is too smart to lean on any of those cheap devices.
Southside with You is a beautiful love story. The story is as organic and personal as real first date. The film is delightful and funny from beginning to end. Hopefully this will start a trend of stylish romantic films that aren’t afraid to think outside the box. The story will remind married people of the first time they met and give single people hope that they too can find love.