That’s how personal the film is in telling the story of how Michelle – with her steely stare and impenetrable demeanor – and casual, quietly powerful Barack connected, despite their immediately apparent differences and ways of perceiving the world.
Of course, we know there is a second, third, fourth date beyond what we see on the screen, but “Southside With You” still manages to be an unexpected experience, driven by showing the audience how young Michelle and Barack eventually became much bigger than 1989 Chicago destined them to be.
This could easily be a first-date story about any ol’ Sally and Joe, but it chooses to set a bar for itself by offering a glance at one of the most well known and powerful couples in the world today, and it succeeds while still being a very entertaining watch.
To reach that end, Tanne offers a film that is consistently poignant, charming and also very,very relevant. He struck gold with Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyer, who embody everything that has come to be associated with the 21st century Obamas – their vocal and physical mannerisms, their grounded nature – while also reminding us that this version of the future presidential duo still has some things to learn about the world around them.
Working off one another in harmony, along with Tanne’s consistently engaging screenplay,helps the audience feel warmly welcomed along for the ride of their casual-turned-intimate summer day in Chicago.
That isn’t to say “Southside With You” is a totally cathartic experience all the way through. It also compels and intellectually challenges us by commenting on racial issues that, in many ways, reflect some of the ongoing national discourse of 2016. By touching on the social atmosphere of the late 1900s, we’re reminded that while much has changed for Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama, it has not been so for others they may have interacted with in southside Chicago.
The film also comments on the consequences of judgment, as well as the sometimes difficult task of asking ourselves if we truly are where we deserve to be. In that vein, Tanne could have spent more time exploring the titular southside of Chicago that hardened Michelle and Barack into the leaders they are, but he still strikes an acceptable balance between their environment and themselves as people navigating it.
While delving into these subjects, the film’s tone evolves rather nicely when it could have whisked us away to a place that is grim and obscure just as we’ve become accustomed to the generally lighthearted nature of “Southside With You.”
Tanne respects the audience with his direction and by keeping his focus on two young people navigating issues anyone else could be trying to solve. At its core, it remains very much a film about how different Michelle and Barack were and are, in a way that is complimentary.
“Southside With You” is a film that definitely relies on dialogue, and it delivers on that front.From it’s buoyant opening moments, the writing is engaging and thoughtful, thrusting us into the psyches of two individuals who at first glance are different in every way. At the same time,it manages to be humorous and very tight, keeping the film rolling along at a lively pace.
It’s also a deeply layered screenplay to be sure, and while it doesn’t quite provide the pay off on every concept it touches on in its 84-minutes, it is still an immensely satisfying experience.
David Lynch is a freelance film reviewer.