Movie Review: Southside With You [2016]

My wife and I have always been fans of Barack and Michelle Obama as a couple – they’re smart, respectable, warm, lovable and all sorts of great. So when we found out that there was going to be a movie about how they met, we knew we had to watch it. (Fun story – I hadn’t known that the movie was out, and my wife bought the tickets intending it to be a surprise. But I went ahead and spoiled the surprise for myself, because that’s one of our things. We spoil our own surprises.)

I’m writing this from memory now – I liked how the movie opens really smooth, with Barack driving in his car, smoking a cigarette, and the opening credits come on with all these funky psychedelic colors. The film’s color palette was really kinda soft and warm and rustic – and it’s just a great contrast to the Barack and Michelle we see every day, in sharp, crisp colors and a cold, HDTV sort of glaze. Southside, in contrast, was really warm and soft visually, and I enjoyed that.

The actress playing Michelle (Tika Sumpter) is the star of the show, holding it all together. She’s the focal point of interest. You’d assume that a show about how the President met his wife would be a lot about the President, but it was really in my opinion a lot more about Michelle. About her concerns, her background, the challenges she faced. Barack comes across as relatively naive and even a little ignorant, while she seems cautious, tough, a little world-weary. And you just have to root for her.

Barack in the show is slightly pushy, almost a little too pushy, and I wonder how true to reality that was. It might just have been to drive the show forward. Michelle handled him with poise and finesse.

Aside – the show plots out a really great date plan. First he brings her to the museum, where they go over their shared interests in Black history. Then they have lunch at the park. Then they go to some sort of Town Hall, where Barack is the hero of the occasion, and everyone just keeps telling Michelle what a great man he is. Then they have dinner, and a movie, and ice cream. Real clever of Barack to squeeze in so many experiences in a single date – it makes it feel like they really went through a lot together in a very short amount of time.

There’s a great bit after the movie where Michelle runs into their superior at work, and there’s this really nuanced bit that follows. I was impressed with how the movie dealt with it, and I won’t spoil that for you – you should watch that for yourself.

Parker Sawyers does a decent job of portraying a young Barack Obama – not super impressive, but I do wonder if maybe Barack himself wasn’t all that impressive when he was younger. I think that was the point – we’re supposed to see Barack before he became this polished politician.

The show was predictable in a good way – you know that there has to be some sort of conflict, and it turns out to be about Obama being a little presumptuous, and about them navigating the sort of space between the two of them despite the obvious attraction. It’s a fun reminder that Michelle was his boss, the more “powerful” of the two when they were dating, etc… It’s also nice to see how they’re embedded in their families, in their community, and it’s nice to see an impression of how they have conversations about themselves, their histories and their future.

A really pleasant show, they explore some nice questions together about what they want to do in life (although spoiler alert: we know where they end up). Great date movie, and I imagine it must be especially great for young black folks to watch. I’d recommend it.

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