Southside With You follows Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson over the course of a day in Chicago. It is Barack’s quest to turn his meeting with colleague Michelle from “Definitely not a date” into a date.
The casting is strong – Parker Sawyers as Barack Obama is a perfect fit. But the strength of the actors is not enough to save the feeble script. Comparisons with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise are spot-on. Especially in the way that there is so much explanation throughout: it’s all tell and very little show. The reason this is frustrating is that most viewers should have quite a good grasp on what these people are like. They have been in the White House for 8 years, and there is no shortage of TV appearances through which we can learn about their lives. This film sheds no new light on the Obamas. Instead, it simplifies them: Barack’s interests are speech-writing, community organising, and chain-smoking. Michelle’s are social justice, professionalism and ice-cream.
One thing that is obvious about the couple, when they appear alongside each other in interviews and public appearances, is that they are very much in love. They still have that spark of a new romance. So why is Southside With You so passionless and dry? Writer/Director Richard Tanne seems to be an advocate of President Obama and this film is a vehicle for that. He wraps up pro-Obama rhetoric in an insipid romance. His message is: Ignore Obama’s failings as a president and see what a good heart he has. Yes, the man with a good heart. So good, in fact, that he just won’t quit until he gets into Michelle’s heart. Because ‘no’ means ‘maybe’ right? Gimme a break. Though Tanne is at pains to tell us what a smart, capable, driven woman Michelle is, all Barack needs to do is disrespect her wishes over a matter of hours, wear her resolve down and (spoiler) win her heart with an ice cream. Southside With You is 100% the male perspective on romance and it does Michelle a great disservice for that reason.
Taglines for Southside With You could include: Escape from the Friendzone or Feminism:Mansplained.
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