© Miramax / Roadside Attractions / Get Lifted Film Co. / IM Global

Richard Tanne’s directorial debut has taken the Sundance Festival and critics by storm. The film is set in 1989, during the future President and First Lady’s first date. A then 25-year-old Michelle Robinson (played by Tika Sumpter, who also co-produced the film) works as an associate at a law firm in Chicago, Illinois, where Barack Obama (played by Patrick Sawyers) has a summer job.

Although three years her senior, Barack is portrayed as more naive and ambitious compared to Michelle, who seems more worldly and skeptical. Michelle, despite insisting to her family that she’s not going on a date, is chided by her mother for “acting like it is”. She questioned why her daughter is worrying so much about her appearance then, asking why she’s “going through so much trouble over a smooth talker”. Michelle’s father also joined in, replying “Barack Owhata?” after asking his daughter the name of the man taking her out.

Barack’s arrival seems too good to have been true, looking confident and eager to pick up his date as “Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson plays on his car radio. The young couple spends the afternoon and night together, discussing politics, visiting an exhibit centered on African art, a church where Barack gives an inspirational speech, a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and an ice cream parlor.

Barack’s speech in the film felt like watching a singer’s first audition in a biopic, with the actor expressing the excitement that a young person would feel for their future career, and the viewer cannot help but feel giddy knowing how successful the future star becomes. The film delved into the couple’s personal lives as well, with Barack discussing his alcoholic father, and Michelle’s father’s struggle with multiple sclerosis (MS). The film also addressed feminism, poverty, and anti black racism, which is suiting for a biopic of two world renowned politicians. Barack’s speech in the movie tackled the poverty that many predominantly black neighborhoods in Chicago face, and how the government did not grant the neighborhood committee the funds to build a community center for the children to keep them safe from gang wars.

The pace of the film was an issue at certain parts, but it did slyly interject a note of suspense on the outcome of the date, despite being based on the most famous couple in modern politics. There were several “will they?!” moments throughout the film, most notably being right before the kissing scene at the parlor. Tanne claims he started writing the script for this in 2007, and it really shows. Although he dramatized the story, Tanne reminds his audience that the Obama’s are not otherworldly beings, but normal people, who started out small, and eventually got really, really big jobs. With Obama’s final term ending by the beginning of 2017, the film will serve future viewers nostalgia for his presidency.

written by Nick Wilmer

One thought on “SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU (2016)

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