Aimed specifically at an audience that relishes fictionalized famous romances – Jacqueline Bouvier/John F. Kennedy and Prince Charles/Diana – this was inspired by Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. It’s summertime, 1989, in Chicago when smart, serious, self-confident Michelle Robinson (Tina Sumpter), a second-year corporate lawyer at Sidley Austin accepts an invitation from Barack (Parker Sawyers), a junior colleague whom she’s mentoring, to attend a meeting at a low-income Southside church regarding a community center. Read on…
Insisting to her parents that this is not a date, Michelle, nevertheless, take care in preparing for this expedition. Their first stop is the Art Institute, where Harvard-educated Barack impresses her with his knowledge of African/American art, particularly Ernie Barnes, whose vibrant paintings depict black American life in the 1970s.
Driving his rattletrap yellow Datsun with a rusted hole in the floor, chain-smoking Barack seems much more laid-back, particularly when he delivers an inspiring speech, emphasizing consideration and empathy.
Impressed, Michelle agrees to extend the day to include dinner and a movie – Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” A chance encounter with one of her law firm’s partners impels Michelle to inform Barack that their relationship should be professional and platonic.
That’s followed by a kiss, as her reserve melts outside a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor.
Snagging a plum part on TV’s “One Life to Live” in 2005, Tina Sumpter’s subsequent films include “Get On Up” and “Ride Along 2.” Having read a synopsis of “Southside,” she encouraged writer/director Richard Tanne, eventually becoming lead producer, helping cast British actor Parker Sawyers.
The result seems remarkably authentic, reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset” trilogy – in which Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke walk around, talking about their lives. Here, Michelle and Barack discuss family, race and career ambitions.
Of course, only the Obamas would know how true-to-life it is – and they’re not talking.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Southside With You” is a subtly sweet 6, a heartfelt date movie, culminating with John Legend’s song “Start” over the end credits.