Southside With You

Directed By: Richard Tanne

Starring: Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter, and Vanessa Bell Calloway

2016 has been one wild election year.  One thing that has come of the political tumult is that Americans are reminded just how good we have it with our current Commander-in-Chief.  While Secretary Clinton tries to dance away from the perceptions of impropriety during her tenure at the State Department courtesy of the Clinton Foundation and Donald Trump talks about black people and flip flops on immigration, President Obama's approval numbers continue to steadily climb.  While that certainly bodes well for Secretary Clinton in November (for whom I will be voting), it more importantly reminds us of what we have today and are about to lose, a class act who has served the United States honorably for the last eight years.  That's not just a compliment to President Obama who has kept things afloat for nearly a decade now, but it's also a credit to our First Lady and my fellow Princeton alumna Michelle Obama.  Together, they've been a true symbol of hope and change for the nation.  With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Hollywood is itching to tell their incredible journey together.  This weekend's Southside with You looks at the very beginning of that story.

Second year associate Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) is set to go with summer associate Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) to a community meeting in Southside Chicago. To her, this is not a date, even though she's freshening up quite a bit in preparation for the excursion.  To her parents Marion and Fraser Robinson (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edward Van Lear), Michelle's day with Barack looks like a date, sounds like a date, and is in essence a date.  When Barack arrives in his old, dilapidated vehicle full of cigarette butts, Michelle feels vindicated about her feelings on the outing.  As the day progresses, however, Barack takes her to an art exhibit with paintings from Good Times.  He takes her to see Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.  He even buys her chocolate ice cream.  As all this happens over the course of their day together, all notions of this non-date fade.

Simple, elegant, and heartfelt, Southside With You is an earnest romantic comedy that captures the beginnings of our First Family with an unmistakable grace and dignity.  For director Richard Tanne, this biographical film is first and foremost a character study.  Exploring the entrapments of being young, black, and successful, he spends a great deal of time exploring the dual identities that many black Ivy Leaguers develop during their time in school and carry with them into their careers.  There's the polite black person we want our colleagues of a different hue to see in order to perpetuate that success.  Then, there's what lies under the guise of a smile — an unrelenting disgust with the literal and figurative shackles of a society marred by racism and sexism.  Tanne showcases this duality to show how they inform the world views of our President and First Lady at this stage in their lives.

When a film essentially encompasses a date and nothing more, the performances of our leads become an essential ingredient to the success of the film.  Taking on the roles of two people who have been at the center of public life for nearly a decade now, Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter have plenty of material with which to work.  They've clearly studied the quirks and mannerisms of their characters and bring them to life on the big screen.  It's clear in the way they walk, talk, and act on camera.  For his part as Barack, Sawyers gives us this cool brother undeniably confident in his ability to woo the future Mrs. Obama.  For her part as Michelle, Sumpter gives us a woman unsuccessfully trying to fight her instincts and put out the sparks of a burgeoning romance for all the right reasons on the surface.  Together, Sawyers and Sumpter share a rather magnetic chemistry on screen, though it doesn't quite match the real thing.

Southside With You
is one romantic date movie.  Tender and sweet, it's everything you would expect of it and more.  At the same time, it's an 80-minute reminder that we're losing the Obamas, and America will never be the same again with them back as private citizens.  This charming romantic comedy gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.