Review: Obamas connect in engaging ‘Southside With You’

Quiet film chronicles the first date between a young Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

They go to a museum, they get some ice cream, they catch a movie.

Not exactly the stuff of cinematic fireworks, but that’s why “Southside With You” works: It’s a real story about two people getting to know each other and connecting on their first date.

Also, those two people happen to be the future president and the first lady.

“Southside With You” is the story of the first time Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) took out Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) on Chicago’s south side in the summer of 1989.

Tika Sumpter gives birth to ‘Southside With You’

They talk about each other’s families, about religion, about “Good Times.” They’re both working at the same corporate law firm and are itching to do more with their careers. They go on to do more, of course, but “Southside With You” is only concerned with that first date and the initial sparks between the pair.

Both Sawyers and Sumpter are engaging in their roles, playing them as people rather than caricatures or impressions (though there are some unmistakable Obama-isms in Sawyers’ portrayal of young “Bar,” as he’s known).

Writer-director Richard Tanne takes a few liberties with the facts to create a storyline, bringing the pair to a community meeting where Barack addresses the room, where the up-to-then hesitant Michelle begins to take notice of her suitor’s magnetism and charisma.

It’s rare to see a movie where two characters, especially two African Americans, are allowed to just talk to one another. “Southside With You” plays like “Before Sunrise” if those two characters had a really epic epilogue.

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‘Southside With You’


Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference

Running time: 81 minutes