Friday, September 09, 2016

Southside with You (2016)

Film: Southside with You (2016)
Stars: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers
Director: Richard Tanne
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

It's not often you go to a movie that you know by heart and still kind of like it, but that was the case for me recently with Southside with You.  I cannot remember when I first heard the details of the Obama's first date, but for some reason it stuck with me as I recalled most of the moments that happened leading up to the lovely ending of Southside with You.  A film that I never would have anticipated, and which almost worked just as well as a trailer (I recalled thinking during the initial buildup up to "what's his name?" that it felt like it was a fictionalized version of the Obamas life, until the "Barack Obama" moment came up and I said, "huh-who would have thought so soon?"), it's actually pretty solid as a date movie.  There's no new molds being broken here, but I don't think you always need that with a late August movie-Southside with You uses charm and familiarity in the best ways possible.

(Spoilers Ahead) For those who can't tell, Southside with You is a very recent story, that of Michelle Robinson (Sumpter) and Barack Obama's (Sawyers) first date.  The film, told over the course of a single day as the two go from being colleagues (Barack wanting something more, Michelle wanting to remain just friends) to paramours, go shopping for music, eating a picnic, visiting a community event, and even seeing Spike Lee's masterpiece Do the Right Thing.  In between, they don't necessarily fall in love, but you can tell there's something there.  It feels in many ways like some of the best dates you've ever been on, if you've been so lucky to have dates that romantic.

The film offers few surprises.  We know these two end up together because they've been a constant presence in our lives for the past eight years.  If you've heard the story before, there are no surprises even in the way that they go through the date (I'm familiar enough with this story to even know the name of the movie).  But if you have chemistry and charm, you can get a long way in a movie, and Sumpter and Sawyers are really strong together.  Neither of them can be confused with an award-winning performance, but they do have that special magic here that you want out of a romance movie.  They play strongly off of each other, and Sumpter doesn't frequently belabor the point that yes, we all know she decides to spend her life with this handsome man with the dumbo ears and the soaring rhetoric.  There is less effort meant to imitate the eventual incarnations we know from inspiring us (or, in some cases, us loathing them, but in that case I doubt you saw this movie), and more just on finding two people who are falling in love before our lives.

It's not a perfect movie.  It's weirdly simple, and probably suffers from some of the issues that Sully is going to in a few weeks in that it feels like a pretty light idea for a picture.  There are moments in the script that feel lull, particularly the second time that Michelle (it feels so weird to call them by their first names), backs off the idea of the two of them dating, and I rolled my eyes when they saw the partner from their firm while on their date coming out of Do the Right Thing so the film could have a clunky (albeit, probably true-to-life) conversation about the film's racial politics.  What are the odds that guy shows up in that theater on that night in the city of Chicago?  Relatively slim, in my opinion.  But by-and-large it's a really lovely way to spend ninety minutes, and you leave wanting more, which is the sign of a romantic movie done well.  I'm glad these two people found a different way into our lives some twenty years later.

Those were my thoughts-how about yours?  This film has largely migrated out of theaters, but hopefully some of you caught it.  If so, what'd you think?  And what other famous couples do you wish they'd make first date movies about?  Share below!

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