Before the White House: My review of Southside with You

C Romantic meander

Written and directed by Richard Tanne

The movie starts like a commercial. The camera moves smoothly over an impossibly clean residential street filled with smiling people. Upbeat, happy music plays over the opening credits. The message is clear: This is going to be a feel-good movie about two people falling in love.

Southside with You plays out as yet another variation on Before Sunrise. Two attractive people who barely know each other walk through a city, talking, doing fun and meaningful things, and getting to know each other, while the audience wonders whether they’re going to fall in love.

But there’s no romantic suspense. Everyone in the audience knows that this couple will eventually marry and create a family. Then they’ll become the first family.

The couple, of course, are Barak Obama and Michelle Robinson.

It’s the summer of 1989, and Barak (Parker Sawyers) is a law student at Harvard, back in his chosen home of Chicago doing a summer internship at a corporate law firm. Michelle is a low-level attorney at the same law firm. She is, in fact, Barak’s immediate superior. It’s her job to evaluate his work. He thinks otherwise.

According to what he said before the movie started, he’s to pick her up and take her to a community meeting that she might find interesting. But he has other plans. They go to a museum. They have lunch in the park. They go see the new movie that everyone is talking about–Do the Right Thing. And yes, they go to that meeting, where we get a glimpse of the great orator and pragmatic politician that Barak will become.

For Michelle, this isn’t a smooth ride to true love. He lied to her about the time of the meeting. He’s a bit too smooth. He smokes. He used to smoke marijuana (she pronounces the full, four-syllable word with distain). Tika Sumpter plays Michelle a bit stuck up. Proud of her no-nonsense work ethic, she feels superior to this laid-back dude from Hawaii.

And in a literal sense, she is superior. She’s his boss. For her to get romantically involved with him would be a significant conflict of interest.

And yet she can’t help feeling attracted to him.

We know that that attraction will lead to the White House. But as a movie, Southside with You feels just a little bit too sweet for its own good. My vote for this film is pretty much on the fence.

One thought on “Before the White House: My review of Southside with You

  1. Thanks very much for this review. I don’t know if I will see this movie, but thanks to you I know a lot more about it. I am a big fan of Barack and Michele Obama … and from what you say, this movie might be more flattering than insightful.

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