If Richard Linklater had made one of his Before movies but about Important people it could be Southside with You, written & directed by Richard Tanne, a movie about the first “date” Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) had with Michelle Robinson in Chicago in 1989. We write “date” because in the movie Michelle (Tika Sumpter) doesn’t want to call it a date. She is Barack’s superior—he’s a summer intern at a trademark law firm where she works—and as a black woman, she says, she has to work harder than her white colleagues to uphold a reputation. People will talk, she says. Hearing this, Barack shrugs and keeps flirting. Southside with You is textured, capturing its moment and characters in detail—whether it’s Barack incessant smoking or his decaying $500 yellow Datsun; Janet Jackson blaring on the radio or Do The Right Thing raising a rumpus in the multiplex; not to mention a lovely chat the couple has, at the Art Institute of Chicago, about Ernie Barnes. Those who worship in the Church of the Democratic Party will find the movie to be a wonderful hagiography. Those of a different faith, however, will call it schmaltzy. If you’re in the middle you may be charmed by the characters but be frustrated by their built-in legacy—your thoughts may drift to drones and healthcare. Then there’s the speech that Barack gives at a church, a speech that, unlike the rest of the low-key movie, is exemplary of an Oscar clip. Yet it’s one of the few times the movie gets explicitly political. Otherwise Michelle and Barack are gushing over Stevie Wonder and debating which is better: pie or ice-cream. Sweet.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White