Obamas’ romantic trek scores points in ‘Southside with You’

LOS ANGELES-Black love never looked so presidential. That’s because in the film “Southside with You,” the focus of our attention is the official first date between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. It turned out to be a marvelous first romantic encounter, though a slightly unexpected one.

But before we get too ahead of ourselves with the well-written storyline by Richard Tanne, the first thing to stand out about “Southside with You” is the genuine romantic journey of a first date, something Hollywood has lacked at times in its portrayal of black people.

The second thing it does is give Chicago, a city swarmed with negativity linked largely to its ongoing battle with gun violence, a kick in the good news public relations department. Finally, what the movie eloquently captures more than anything else is the bonding of the human spirit. That is what is missing in so many films today.

Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers in SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU. Photo credit: Pat Scola, Courtesy of Miramax and Roadside Attractions
Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers in “Southside with You.” Photo credit: Pat Scola, Courtesy of Miramax and Roadside Attractions

There are no series of fire trucks or police squad cars and sirens in the film. There are no drive-by shootings or buildings being blown to smithereens or a superhero in tights coming to rescue us humans from our overindulgence of apathy and ignorance. “Southside with You” is why we go to the movies in the first place.

It’s humorous. It has its tender moments. The movie allows audiences to see the 44th President of the United States as one of us, just an ordinary guy trying to find his place in society. Driving around his lovely law firm co-worker in his dustup Datsun B-210 proves that point.

This film reminds us how great storytelling once dictated our moral compass. I mean, there is still such a thing as wooing a lady, being a gentleman and serving a cue on the meaning of chivalry. Quiet strength and integrity, as we see embodied by the then Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), are not mythical attributes. They’re real.

The shared mutual admiration to one another by two people working alongside of each other reminds us that the high potency of attraction cannot be refutable or bypassed.  Like a relief pitcher coming in the ball game in the late innings to try to save the day, “Southside with You” gives us a reprieve from the onslaught of expensive throwaway movies or massive action flameouts.

Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter in SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU. Photo credit: Pat Scola, Courtesy of Miramax and Roadside Attractions
Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter in Southside with You.” Photo credit: Pat Scola, Courtesy of Miramax and Roadside Attraction

“Southside with You” is a fundamental love story that will make you buy in: hook, line and sinker. That is how it ends up. But it does not start off this way. What we have is a young, chain-smoking Obama blasting away Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” in his yellow roadie making his way over to his supervisor’s house (Michelle Robinson) so they can head over to a community meeting headed by local community organizers.

What should have been no more than a couple of hours of talking legal strategy and discussing the ills of a community, turned out to be a day of witty one-liners, intellectual posturing and the building of a relationship.  It was a lot more than what the former Michelle Robinson expected.

For the young Obama, though, it kind of worked out the way that he was hoping for. He already had his eyes on the prize. Being cool, calculating, smart and quick-witted didn’t hurt his chances to try to woo his immediate boss into spending time with him away from the office.

It worked. After being late being late picking up Robinson, Obama breaks the news to her that the community meeting was delayed for a couple of hours. Of course, this maneuver would allow him space to work on spending time with his supervisor. A walk through the park, a short excursion to a local museum and buying lunch earned Obama some brownie points with Robinson.

It still wasn’t enough for her to say yes to a date with her subordinate. Her affection for the charming Obama (Parker Sawyers), though, breaks slowly through her tough exterior. That changes quite a bit when the two walk through the doors of a Chicago church where the community meeting was being held.

Obama is both adored and celebrated, and this casts Robinson into a different line of thinking about this upstart lawyer. The wonderful thing about “Southside with You” is the beautiful on-screen chemistry between Sumpter and Sawyers in their respective portrayals of the First Lady and the President. Everything just flows. There are no hiccups from the two actors.

Sumpter and Sawyers were layered with the stern challenge of emulating or capturing the essence of President Obama and Mr. Obama. Sumpter and Sawyers nail the script. They make you feel like you are watching Mr. and Mrs. Obama on the big screen, not thespians portraying them. That is what good filmmaking is all about.

“Southside with You” reminds us of the first steps we took in our own personal paths towards love and how special it can be.

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