When most people think of films about a president, they tend to think of grand biopics that cover his presidency or an important part of it, films along the lines of “Nixon,” “JFK,” “W.,” or “Lincoln.” However, how often is it that we get an entire film about a president before they took office, or even before they had any notions of trying to reach it? Of course, the excellent “Young Mr. Lincoln” comes to mind, but it remains a very scarce kind of biopic that opens up several possibilities. One of these possibilities is an idea that writer/director Richard Tanne came up with in which he spends an entire film telling us about the first date between Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, an idea so simple, that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it might not even work.
Taking place over the course of one day, we begin with Michelle (Tika Sumpter), a lawyer, getting ready to spend some time with Barack (Parker Sawyers), an associate at the same law firm. The plan is that they are going to go to a meeting at a church where community issues will be discussed, but with a few hours before the meeting, they decide to visit an art gallery and roam about the Southside of Chicago. They discuss a wide range of topics that include their families, their likes and dislikes, and even their perceptions of each other. Throughout their encounter, Michelle continues to insist that this isn’t a date, but as the day goes on, she begins to learn things about him that just might be the spark to start a special relationship.
Indeed, it may seem like a simple idea, but what a fascinating one. In these very brief 80 minutes, we witness the beginning of what would become a very important relationship. Of course, only the Obamas can say exactly how accurate the film is, and more than likely there was a little artistic license taken here and there, but assuming that most of it is what actually happened on their first “date,” then it must have been a very intriguing day for the both of them.
It’s particularly interesting to learn that Michelle was under the impression that this wasn’t really a date, but rather an invitation to a meeting at which a community recreation center would be discussed. However, Barack surprises her by revealing that the meeting isn’t until later, and that they should do something in the meantime. This opens the door for some engrossing discussion that includes not only the usual talk of family, but also talk about themselves, which goes to a few deeper areas than you would think would be visited on a mere first outing.
The film also plays rather well on the expectations that Michelle has of Barack, for she doesn’t really seem to think of him as more than a friend on the outset, but when he is given the chance to speak at the meeting, she realizes that there is much more to him than meets the eye. His speech is passionate and straight from the heart, showing the first glimpses of his desire to help the public. From that point on, Michelle sees him in a whole new light, as do we as the audience (though, of course, this is a characteristic of the man we’ve seen over the last several years as POTUS).
Much of the credit for the film’s success must be given to Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter for their outstanding, natural performances. They don’t play their parts as though they’re doing an impression, but rather as any young man and woman going on a first date trying to get to know each other. This is pretty much a two-person show for almost the entire picture, but these two knock it out of the park, delivering turns that have you wanting to see what they’ll do next on their outing and what will become of them as a couple that very evening.
Granted, this might not be the most exciting movie in the world, but if you give it a chance, you’ll likely find that this story of a romance in the making is a fun little piece of history. At the very least, it’s something a little different from the usual presidential pics we get from the likes of Oliver Stone. It’s much smaller in scale, but far more intimate as a result, and for that, it’s worth seeking out.
"Southside with You” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The image is crisp and clear throughout the entire presentation, giving great clarity to the film’s period production design. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is likewise excellent, giving you all of the dialogue and music in perfect quality. Overall, the film has been given marvelous treatment, providing a fine experience in both areas.
Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Tanne: A commentary in which Tanne gives you a lot of interesting background info throughout the film.
Original Artwork & Animations
With a pair of great performances and a fascinating premise, “Southside with You” is a leisurely-paced, but intriguing, look at a piece of romantic history. It may not be as all-encompassing as some of the usual presidential biopics that we’re used to getting, but as a small, intimate portrait of the young Obamas, it’s a surprisingly delightful film that does exactly what it sets out to do by showing us the prelude to a blossoming romance.