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Southside With You Review

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In 1989, Chicago lawyer Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) takes his colleaque Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) out for the afternoon. To him it’s a date, to her it absolutely is not. With no idea that he will one day be President, they discuss the world and get to know each other, affection growing between them.

★★★★★

In a piece of cute lefty fan-fiction, Richard Tanne’s two-hander imagines what may have occurred on the first date between Barack and Michelle Obama, many years before The White House loomed. Colleagues at a Chicago law firm, she was adamant their solo day out was not a date, he was set on changing her mind.

More than as any kind of political statement, this succeeds as a breezy romance.

It has a feel that’s something like Before Sunrise, with the same thrum of two people doing nothing in particular but falling in love, even if one of them is initially trying to resist. The difference is that here the conversation is not peering indulgently inwards but trying to look out to the whole world and a brighter future. What Tanne captures in a mere 84-minutes is not so much a portrait of the Obamas – this is no biopic, really, almost all of it invented – but of the world they saw that drew them toward politics. Their strolls take them through several neighbourhoods, mixing with those who see the world as pretty content and those who, if not actively ignored by those in power, are at least beyond their concern. Obama is at ease in them all.

While his script is sometimes a bit clumsy in its exposition (phonecalls to other family members awkwardly describe the Obama’s backstories) and conversations can sound written rather than spoken, Tanne has times of great subtle insight. None more than the leads discussing Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing outside a cinema with an older white colleague, deftly encapsulating how different people from different backgrounds can view the same situation, and the country.

More than as any kind of political statement, this succeeds as a breezy romance, largely thanks to the performances by Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter. They bring the Obamas to life as people we recognise, but more than that as a couple of mooning kids you want to see making a go of it.

Even if you didn’t know what comes next, this story of the first days of the Obamas would still seduce as a sweet, smart romance.

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