The pretty truthful telling of the first date between the young Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson. Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter give deft performances in Southside With You as law firm aides who will become the future President and First Lady, but since this is 1989, they never make such assumptions. On the day they spend together, we observe this young sharp couple talking about race and politics, as well as arguing about the ethics of the law firm that they work for. Michelle seems to be concerned about what people think and doesn’t like the idea of being caught in public socializing with a co-worker. Obama is clearly attracted to this strong-willed lady and he likes testing his abilities at assertion.
Michelle makes it clear that it’s “not really a date” since she is long wary of smooth talkers. Obama assures her aplenty that it doesn’t have to be an official date until she says it is one. The way he coaxes her over time, is well, romantic (our last President had heart!) The two start at an art museum, then move on to lunch, then to a community meeting which is the guise of why they went out in the first place, then attend the landmark film “Do the Right Thing” which has just been released.
Naturalism is the film’s tone, and it is pleased with itself at being low-key and observant. There is a bravura speech by Barack at the community meeting in a discussion of how money can be raised to build a children’s community center for the neighborhood, and it matches the oratory eloquence of the President we came to know. And there is another great scene when Barack and Michelle run into their boss after they walk out of “Do the Right Thing.” Barack steals the spotlight by becoming the diplomat of conversation about the film they just saw. “Southside With You” is a walking and talking film out of the “Before Sunrise” playbook, and yet as an insight into our former leader it has some invigorating crystal ball moments.
84 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
BIOGRAPHICAL DRAMA / OLDER TEENS / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT