There are few people on earth that ignite the type of reactions that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, do. While being the president and first lady of the free world is a feat in and itself, there is something about the Obamas that makes them different than past presidential power couples. Yes, Mr. Obama was one of the younger presidents (5th youngest to be exact) when he was first elected and was the first African American president, but it’s more than just that. The Obamas just scream relatable (at least they do to me).
Whether you agree with President Obama’s politics or not, it is common knowledge that there’s a youthfulness that shines about him and his spirit. These traits simply aren’t normally associated with elected officials, let alone the President of the United States of America. Meanwhile, Mrs. Obama exudes her own confidence through her well- articulated speeches and inviting personality. There’s no denying her intelligence and she seems like the kind of person that would want to build you up and never tear you down.
Perhaps you simply don’t agree or can’t get past your dislike for his politics, even then I suggest you try watching Southside with You if you have the slightest curiosity about their initial courting. This film is done in such a way that there is absolutely no political motive or hidden message. It’s simply a love story that we plop in the middle of as it takes place throughout a singular day. At the end of the day, all it will make you realize is that the Obamas are real people.
Unlike most romantic tales, we don’t witness when Michelle and Barack initially meet. Instead it begins with Michelle getting ready to on a professional outing with young summer associate “Barry”, Barack Obama. In this case, it worked starting at a point where they already know one another and Barack is clearly interested in Michelle romantically, while Michelle maintains that they are to remain professional.
Personally, I’m not a fan of films that start in the middle of the story but if done correctly, they can pull the viewers along for an intense ride. Southside with You is neither an action film, nor is it an intense ride but it somehow worked since most of us are already familiar with the Obamas, so time was not needed in explaining every last detail in their lives.
Parker Sawyers (Survivor (2015)), an up and coming actor had the honor of playing Mr. Obama when he was “just Barry”. Devilishly handsome, Sawyers exudes the swagger of what I imagine a young Obama had. He also shares quite a resemblance with Obama so all in all his casting works. Tika Sumpter (Ride Along (2014), Ride Along 2 (2016)) plays Michelle Robinson and while she doesn’t look like her in my opinion, she does a good job of playing a young lawyer who doesn’t wish to be wooed by the new guy. Southside with You is all about the little details from the music (does Joy and Pain ring any bells?) to the high tops and acid washed jeans to the featured film they see in the theater (Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989)).
Southside with You throws the viewer to summer of ’89 in Chicago. In addition to a trip to the cinema, the now Obamas attend the Art Institute of Chicago and a community event in which Barack defuses a tense community meeting, effectively showing off his natural leadership (the only nod to the future in the entire movie) and public speaking. It’s evident that he set up this little outing to show off for Ms. Robinson. Unlike most romantic flicks leading ladies, Michelle isn’t dim or naive. She calls Barack out a few times and it is quite the sight. The chemistry is there between Sawyers and Sumpter but sometimes the movie lags.
The biographical drama successfully humanizes this larger than life couple but sometimes struggles in holding the attention of the viewer. It’s sweet and sincere but I found my eye wandering quite a bit. While I reflect on the film fondly, it’s probably not one that I will ever see again (to be fair, I rarely watch romantic movies more than once). I think it’s fun and while I’m not sure how accurate it is (I reckon only the Obamas know that), I think it’s a harmless film that any person can relate to. Southside with You is a wonderful tribute film to the Obamas to move out of the spot-light with. And as a special treat, you can read our interview with Tika Sumpter by following this link.