The genesis of the love story of the first couple of the United States, President Barack Obama and his first lady, Michelle Obama is lovingly told in the satisfying romantic drama, Southside with You.
Over the past decade, the public has enjoyed a rare peek into the brilliance of Barack Obama and his loving relationship with his equally brilliant and strong support system, Michelle Obama. While their love for each and strong bond have been on display, first-time writer/director Richard Tanne takes us back to the beginning to see how it all began. Inspired by information in the public domain and without the permissions of the First Family, Southside with You is a thoughtful, breezy and romantic look at their first encounter and how over the course of a day, the two would discover sparks that would last to this day.
Second-year law associate Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) has accepted an invitation to attend a meeting by her bright Summer intern, Barack Obama. Aware of her identity in the firm, Robinson has rebuffed Obama’s attempts for over a month but she finally relents to accompany him to a community meeting, only on the condition that it is NOT classified as a “date.”
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But Obama has other ideas and after initially deceiving her with the time of the meeting, he uses the time to take her to several locations during their all date encounter. While accompanying her around from place to place, his true motivation is for them to spend time talking trying to get to know this woman, who has so intrigued him. Tanne’s dialogue-driven screenplay has this beautiful couple finding common ground bonding over the television show, Good Times, the art of Ernie Barnes, the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, his love of pie, and her love of chocolate ice cream.
But where their talks truly intensify is over revelations about their upbringing. Education was strongly pressed in the Robinson household as Michelle shares that her brother had “natural smarts while she had to work extra hard to accomplish her goals. For his part, Obama clearly was a late bloomer, revealing that he spent much of his high school years in a “fog.”
Going as far to introduce Obama to her girlfriend, Robinson is laser-focused on succeeding in the firm but he senses the conflict she has with her career choice. Tanne’s script is devoid of political ambition or hyperbole, it is simply a story of two people who not only are attracted to each other physically but curious about WHO each other are.
The image of the Obamas that we see today is largely mirrored in the film as both Sumpter and Sawyers capture the essence of the personas. Not an impersonation, unknown actor Sawyers strikes the right balance portraying Obama as charismatic and brilliant but easy-going as well. Chain-smoking through their encounter, Sawyers’ portrayal is respectful but clearly smitten by the strong-willed intellect that Robinson possesses. Sumpter, who also produced the film, glows as Robinson, who views Obama as first-and-foremost a colleague but slowly lowers her defense and begins to see him as much, much more.
While the First Family has yet to see the film, emissaries have indicated that they are extremely curious. Judging by the Tanne’s dedication to capturing their time-capsule encounter, he has crafted a story that is strong food for the mind, while heaping a hearty helping of love for the soul. As their magical evening progresses, we start to see cracks in Robinson’s veneer that will surely make even detractors of the Obamas smile.
Legend has it that the first film the two shared together was Spike Lee’s classic, Do the Right Thing. Almost thirty years later, their love and bond have grown strong and this simple community organizer would later work his magic on an entire country. Far too often, we don’t get an opportunity to see Black Love portrayed in the big screen, which is yet another reason that Southside with You resonates for an audience of people starved for such portrayals.