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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

May 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: ‘Southside With You’ viewers follow a budding romance

"Southside With You"

Richard Tanne’s directorial debut, “Southside with You,” follows the story of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s first date — a charming film with spectacular performances. Audiences will be in awe by how down-to-earth the film can be, despite the characters’ prominence in the public eye. It will make viewers feel nostalgic with its rich ’80s feel and romantic touch.   

Viewers meet Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) as she gets ready in her mother’s home for what she calls a “business meeting.” Her mother teases her, saying, “I thought this wasn’t a date?” To Robinson, it wasn’t — until she met the ever-so-charming Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers). Obama and Robinson visit countless places on their date, such as an Afro-Culture museum exhibit, a church meeting and a theater to see the film “Do the Right Thing.” Viewers watch the couple grow into who we now call President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama in “Southside with You.”

Besides the wonderful acting between the two leads, the most incredible part of the film is that it has no agenda but to show a beautiful love story between two people. It’s not fixated on the fact that they will one day become the leaders of the United States but rather on what true love can look like. The movie might be classified as a liberal democratic film, but really, the film’s true identity is a simple romantic comedy. Sumpter’s performance as Robinson, a strong and persistent woman, is fascinating, while Sawyers’ performance is cool and collected. He also does not overdo his Obama impression, which could have been tasteless.

The film also pays homage to the city of Chicago. The shots of the city are breathtaking — a true testament to finding beauty in the smaller things in life. What is also captivating about the film is its sense of nostalgia. Our first glimpse of Obama — him sitting in his junk car, smoking a cigarette, listening to Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” — really brings viewers into that hot summer day. It humanizes these people from what we know of them now to who they were before.

Tanne takes a kind of Richard Linklater–approach with the film. It is reminiscent of Linklater’s film “Before Sunrise,” another film about a couple who interact and bond throughout the night. If there are any flaws, viewers might find the pacing to be off. For an 84-minute movie, there are a few scenes where the film can drag for too long. Mostly, “Southside with You” is a great film, not just for Obama supporters but for fans of romantic comedies in general. The film will steal the hearts of viewers and inspire hope and change.

Colin Barrett can be reached at cbarrett@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @colinb333555