Southside With You

southside PHOTO

It doesn’t matter what side you’re on politically, you’ll find the movie of the Obama’s first date to be a bit dull. It’s reminiscent of director Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” trilogy, but it’s by another Richard — first time filmmaker Richard Tanne. And, it’s obvious he has a bit of hero worship going on.

It’s one long day in Chicago, in the summer of 1989. It’s the first date between Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers, whose ears are way too small) and future First Lady Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter, also a producer). Barack is an intern working for Michelle, and she continually tells him they aren’t on a date. One thing I found troubling is that she said she’s told him this countless times. He also mentions that he’s been trying for months. So, doesn’t this make him a bit of a harasser? There are boundaries, and if a woman is telling you “no”…shouldn’t you respect that? Or…are we just supposed to think this is all cute, because they ended up happily married? My girlfriend joked, “There’s a fine line between romance and stalking.”

Part of the problem is that the date wasn’t all that interesting. There’s a drum circle Michelle gets involved in. A debate over which is better — chocolate ice cream or a piece of pie [which is a debate I’ve had with every girlfriend, but hardly makes for interesting conversation].

There are moments we’re supposed to laugh at — the future President driving an ugly yellow Datsun, with part of the floorboard missing. Instead, I was wondering why he showed up for her date late. Why didn’t he open the door for her? Does he even care that much about her, or is he just a “player”? They certainly imply that he has had a lot of ladies. And how are we supposed to feel about Michelle getting upset to find out he “dates white women”?

Barack does show some charm, and the couple have decent chemistry together. Yet Sumpter, in her attempt to sound just like Michelle, has a cadence in her voice that doesn’t sound natural. It reminded me of Reese Witherspoon in Election. Everything out of their mouths sounded like speeches. Now, in the one scene in which Barack gives a speech…it’s powerful. We see the future orator in action.

Sawyers does a lot better with Barack’s voice, sounding like him and not coming across like a Saturday Night Live impression. I just wonder why they didn’t put things on his ears to make them bigger, especially when they have Michelle commenting on how big they are (and they weren’t).

Somebody needs to explain to me just how addicted to smoking the President is. I think the Marlboro’s featured here need to get nominated for “best supporting actor.” I want to know how many cigarettes were harmed in the filming. The dude smoked three before the opening credits even finished. And, if he’s so intent on impressing Michelle on his first date, why is he smoking in his car on the way there and when he pulls up to her place? He’s not trying to hide the cancer sticks in the ashtray? When they go out for drinks, why does he light up without asking her if it’s okay? And why is she never addressing this? She seems to be nosy about an awful lot regarding his life, but not this.

The movie felt like a love letter to the Obama’s, Baskin Robbins, and Spike Lee. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for interesting cinema.

There’s no suspense (we know when they argue it won’t escalate into a break up).

I’ll give it an extra half a star for all the Ernie Barnes paintings we got to see, and a lovely song by John Legend in the closing credits.

1 ½ stars out of 5.