Review by Kam Williams
Who would ever think of making a movie just about Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Obama’s (Tika Sumpter) first date? Richard Tanne would, that’s who, and he makes an impressive directorial debut with this inspirational biopic chronicling a very eventful day in the lives of the future President and First Lady.
The story unfolds in Chicago during the summer of 1989 when Michelle Robinson was already employed as an attorney and living back home with her parents (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edwad Van Lear). Barack Obama had just finished his first year at Harvard Law School and had landed an internship as her assistant at her prestigious, white-shoe firm.
Apparently, he was so instantly smitten with Michelle that he could barely contain himself. So, she had to politely remind him of the office’s strict rule against fraternizing among associates. Nevertheless, when she refused to consider a romantic rendezvous, he pitched her on the idea of attending a business meeting with him.
Once Michelle grudgingly agrees, Barack arrives late, yet is too cocky to be embarrassed about either his tardiness or the gaping hole in the floor of his rusty jalopy. What the skeptical object of his affection doesn’t know is that he has added a picnic, a museum and a movie to their planned itinerary.
Again, Michelle balks, but consents only after reminding her self-assured suitor that “This is not a date.” Nevertheless, the smooth-talking chain smoker presses on with his own agenda, with the Art Institute of Chicago being their first port-of-call. And while perusing paintings by the legendary Ernie Barnes, Barack began broaching personal subjects.
The two continued to get to know each other over sandwiches in the park, with the discussion touching on everything from family to faith to blackness to the meaning of life. So, Michelle had a decent measure of the man by the time they headed to the South Side rec center where Barack had once worked as a community organizer.
The icing on the cake proves to be an inspirational speech that’s nothing short of presidential which he delivers there to the discouraged denizens of the crumbling ‘hood. Michelle’s floodgates finally open, undoubtedly helped along by one woman’s (Deanna Reed Foster) approval of her as the first sister she’s ever seen Barack with. Next thing you know, the two lovebirds head to the theater to see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, before capping off the evening with a little canoodling while sharing an ice cream cone.
Southside with You is a syrupy soap opera readily recommended for ardent Obama admirers. The predictable love story has a tendency to telegraph its punches, since its familiar plotline sticks to what’s already public knowledge. Overall, this plausible account of the blossoming of love between Barack and Michelle serves up a pleasant, if sanitized version of their romantic launch en route to an historic rendezvous with destiny!
Very Good (3 stars)
PG-13 for smoking, a violent image, brief profanity and a drug reference
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: Miramax / Roadside Attractions
To see a trailer for Southside with You, visit here.
What did President Obama and the First Lady think of the film portrayal of their budding romance?
sun wire services
Vanity Fair magazine ran a review on Southside With You after it previewed at Sundance this January. Writer/director Richard Tanne confirmed during the Q&A after the film’s premiere,“that the first couple are familiar with Southside with You. “We’ve heard from some pretty reliable sources that they are aware [of the film],” the writer-director said. “They are excited. And they are also a little baffled by its existence.”
Part of the reason for their surprise—they weren’t alerted of the film during its scripting phase, because Tanne based the project entirely on information that had been made public about that first date.
“I pretty much just culled from the public-domain articles, interviews, videos. . just whatever I could get my hands on,” Tanne said. “And through the years I have been reading as many books as possible. Of course there wasn’t a note taker on the dates, so you just have to extrapolate from what’s there.”
At the time Tanne and Tika Sumpter mulled over getting the First Couple to Sundance for a screening of Southside With You or making a White House field trip just for the screening.
Excerpts from Vanity Fair Magazine.