Southside with You

 

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An unexpected romantic comedy in which Barack (that one) becomes acquainted with Michelle.

 
Southside with You

Before the White House: Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers 

 

It is rare indeed for the early life of a living head of state to feature in a film portraying some past incident in dramatised form.  Our own queen was recently seen in that light portrayed by Sarah Gadon, but A Royal Night Out was presented as a fanciful account of her exploits on VE Night rather than as a literal rendering. Now, however, we have Southside with You set in Chicago in 1989 in which writer/director Richard Tanne seeks to recreate a youthful day in the life of Barack Obama. It is the day when he takes out a fellow colleague working for a corporate law firm, one Michelle Robinson. He sees it as a date whereas she insists that it is a platonic first outing together, but we all know where this will lead. In contrast to A Royal Night Out and regardless of the usual disclaimers referring to fictional elements included, Tanne's film gives the impression of seeking to tell it as it might well have been.

 

For any Americans as devoted to their President and his First lady as others there are besotted by the British Royal Family, the idea of a gentle romantic comedy about them may well be appealing and, indeed, Southside with You is happily less anodyne than one might have feared and it is neatly cast too (co-producer Tika Sumpter is Michelle and Parker Sawyers has looks that do indeed suggest the young Obama). What results is still a very mild, modest film and one too slight I feel to earn a high rating here, but I should add that it is likely to please everybody who feels drawn by the subject matter. It is true that structurally it briefly changes its tone in the middle when, without offering strong drama, it nevertheless switches to the concern of Chicago's black citizens to obtain council support for a community centre. But even this plays in to the film's main focus when we learn that Obama had invited Michelle to this group's meeting aware that he would be likely to be giving a speech there which might help to impress her.

 

On a positive note it is a welcome change to find a rom.com featuring characters who are black and also intelligent. With special emphasis on the paintings of Ernie Barnes, we follow the couple to an art gallery and then into a park ahead of the meeting and afterwards to a restaurant and to a movie (the film that they see is Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing). The downside here is that devoting a film to two people walking  and talking over a few hours inevitably reminds one of a masterpiece, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995), and that is a sophisticated in-depth piece which by comparison underlines what a modest effort this is. Even so, on its own chosen ground Southside with You is a success when it might well have been a failure.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Phil Ed Van Lear, Taylar Fondren, Deanna Reed-Foster, Jerod Haynes, Gabrielle Lott-Rogers, Preston Tate Jr, Tom McElroy, Donn Carl Harper.

 

Dir Richard Tanne, Pro Robert Teitel, Tika Sumpter and Richard Tanne, Screenplay Richard Tanne, Ph Pat Scola, Pro Des Lucio Seixas, Ed Evan Schiff, Music Stephen James Taylor, Costumes Megan Spatz.

 

Miramax/Roadside Attractions/IM Global/Get Lifted Film Co./Fermion Films-Soda Pictures.
84 mins. USA/UK. 2016. Rel: 30 September 2016. Cert. 12A.