DVD Movie Review: Southside With You

By Thom Compton 03.11.2017

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Southside With You (UK Rating: 12)

Before this review gets started, understand this: Southside With You (know also as My First Lady in some territories) is not a political film. It is not trying to drive "its agenda" down your throat; it is not interested in any of that. First and foremost, this is a love story - the fact that it picked former US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle is both besides the point, and the entire point. This - out on DVD in the UK earlier in 2017 via Thunderbird Releasing - couldn't have been about any other couple, realistically at least, but them as politicians is largely irrelevant.

Okay, did you forget about the past eight years of politics? Good, now this review can proceed. Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter) go out on a date, way back in the summer of 1989. Okay, it's not a date; it's supposed to be a meeting. This false pretence ends with Michelle deciding to give Barack a chance, despite insisting it's not a date. Don't expect crazy hi-jinks and barrels of laughs. This is a real first date.

Being able to enjoy the finer moments of the film requires a bit of understanding walking in. The significance of Barack's cigarettes, for instance, feels like something you might need to know beforehand. Much like a real first date, the smoker is usually totally unaware what they are doing is bothering the other person, if it is. These finer details are brilliant, but they are still Easter eggs at heart.

To say the actors did a good job would be profoundly insulting. Parker Sawyers becomes Barack Obama, down to his trade mark laugh, his mannerisms, and, well, he even looks almost exactly like him. Tika Sumpter does an equally fantastic job embodying Michelle Robinson, and her cautious optimism towards Barack's optimism is both palatable and moving. Michelle hasn't been able to trust the system the same way Barack has, and although he can occasionally come off as a bit too naïve, he is a constant beacon of hope.

"Wait, did you say system?! This is going to start telling me how to feel, isn't it?" No. In this case, the system refers to their law firm, where Michelle works tirelessly to make very little headway. It is on this point that Michelle and Barack speak about how difficult it is as a black woman to make any headway at that office, or any office for that matter. However, the film doesn't shove it down your throat, instead merely dropping the idea in front of you, and their conversation continues.

A meeting in a church, with many of Barack's childhood friends and neighbours, explores Barack as a person. He is eternally optimistic, and refuses to just let the people wallow in their misery. Instead, he builds them up, and despite the speech's final, cringe-worthy line, gives the speech in a beautiful and powerful delivery.

Even as the film ends, it refuses to get too political. There is some light social commentary, but the kind you expect to overhear someone making on the street. That's part of Southside With You's power. Writer/Director Richard Tanne clearly did his research, and even better, wrote one of the best screenplays in years. Seriously, everything he touched on this film is brilliant, but that screenplay is worth drooling over at great length.

Southside With You is not perfect. Remember that cringe-worthy part of the speech? Yeah, that happens sometimes. Some of the scenes seem like they exist far too early in the relationship, but it makes sense. After all, it is unlikely Tanne was able to find footage of the Obama's first date, so he covered some of the more important emotional points that the film sets up by drawing conclusions before it all ends. It's Storytelling 101. This film, though, belongs in an expert class. Wow, that line was pretty cringe-worthy, too.

Rated 10 out of 10

Masterpiece - Platinum Award

Rated 10 out of 10
A smart, thought-provoking love story with some simple commentary that any fan of biopics should definitely watch. Between the absolutely sublime script, the fantastic directing, and the award winning acting (seriously, if one of those two don't get nominated for something, it's inexcusable) there's almost nothing wrong with Southside With You coming to mind. It's a brilliant film that needs to be seen, if for no other reason than to prove that such wonderful work exists.

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