“Southside with You” is a lovely date movie with just a bit more to offer

southside with you
I love a good walk and talk movie. When you can just watch a pair of characters interact, usually while falling in love, it can sometimes lead to a special bit of cinema. This week, we have the added bonus of that sort of mellow film also being a kind of backdoor biopic of President Barack Obama. It doesn’t really reference his future at all, but this is about a specific moment in his life, as well as that of the woman he would marry. It’s a nice film, one that also has the distinction of being both mature and family friendly. There’s a real chance that it could turn out to be a breakout hit, as the fascination factor will draw in audiences, as well as just the overt quality of the story being told. Keep an eye out for it!

The flick is described as a chronicle of an afternoon in the summer of 1989 where the future President of the United States wooed his future First Lady on a first date across Chicago’s South Side. That’s obviously accurate, but this is more just the story of how Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) invited out his law firm advisor Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), hoping for a date. Barack is a summer associate at the firm and is smitten with Michelle, while she is steadfast in not wanting a relationship. He asks her out to a meeting he’s attending at a housing project, with a trip to the art museum as well as a drink and a viewing of Spike Lee’s at the time new movie Do The Right Thing sandwiched in between. As they go to these events, you can see her slowly coming under the influence of his charms, while you also see the man that this still developing guy would become. It’s very charming and more than a little bit romantic. Richard Tanne writes and directs, with the rest of the small cast including Vanessa Bell Calloway, Taylar Fondren, Tom McElroy, Phillip Edward Van Lear, and more.

What elevates this movie is obviously the knowledge of what comes next for this would be couple. Barack here is only a summer associate and community organizer, not even into politics yet (there’s a moment when he’s asked about that and he simply replies “maybe”). Michelle is an up and coming lawyer with no designs on getting involved with him. You can see the team that they make even here, with Sawyers and Sumpter displaying great chemistry. It’s also a credit to Tanne that despite how easily effective/manipulative it would be, he never looks into the future. This is just speculation about that one date, shared ice cream cone and first kiss included. The mark on history they would make would still be to come.

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Awards wise, I think Southside with You is probably too small to really make much of dent, but at least on the independent scene it has a chance. If an Oscar campaign is launched, I could see long shot attempts made in Best Picture, Best Director (for Tanne), Best Actor (for Sawyers), Best Actress (for Sumpter), Best Original Screenplay (also for Tanne), and Best Original Song (for the tune Start, written by John Legend). The only real shot is probably Original Screenplay or Original Song, Academy Award wise, but who knows? Anything is possible, and if this one catches on, it could go further than expected.

Overall, on Friday audiences will begin to get a look at this very nice love story. If you’re curious about the First Couple, this charming little flick will potentially fill in a blank or two. Even if you’re just a fan of walk and talk love stories, you’ll likely dig it as well. The performances are strong, the mood is infectious, and it’s just an effective movie. Are there better films out there? Sure, but there’s way more worse ones and this does stand out from the pack. Southside with You is well worth seeing, so don’t miss out on it as it expands in the coming weeks…

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Be sure to check out Southside with You, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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