The romantic comedy flick can be like a minefield. If the film makes one wrong step, the whole story is ruined. Or if you want to go the Nicholas Sparks route, you just start dancing across the mines and make everything a catastrophe for everyone. Some romance movies try too hard to set up unrealistic tales of passion and lust, and this is ultimately what leads to so many being panned. But then you have the other side of the romantic film spectrum, where the tale is crafted to never be ostentatious, but solely meant as a cute, compact tale of love between two genuinely likable characters. And this is where Southside with You sits perfectly.
Southside with You is the romantic retelling of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s first date together through the streets of Chicago, Illinois. Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) is a young lawyer who has agreed to attend a community event with a summer associate from her office named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers.) Although she is adamant that what they are doing together is not a date, as young Michelle is fearful that an inner work relationship could destroy all the hard work she’s done, Barack is determined to spend as much time with her as he can, taking Michelle to the community event, an art gallery and even a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
One of the greatest highlights of Southside with You is how well it sells the theme of “What would be the best date of your life?” What you want is a date like that in Southside with You; it’s not the artificially flashy or hollow romance you’ve come to expect from the genre. Rather, this tale is so small-scale and focused on the characters of Barack and Michelle that it feels like one of the most genuine love stories to be produced in a while. The entire narrative encompasses only one day and with minor characters rarely making an appearance in the run time, it’s surprisingly effective how well Barack and Michelle’s relationship is composed in the span of that single day.
The dynamic between leads Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers is what’ll keep you, as the viewer, invested in this humble romance story from beginning to end. Their on-screen chemistry is unmistakable, which is fitting seeing as they’re the ones who’ll take up about 99% of the screen time. With a plethora of witty banter to provide the laughs, and a flowing, natural dialogue to portray the hardships of their lives, Barack and Michelle Obama’s real life personalities feel very well represented here. The abundance of time for the more intimate moments, where the pair begin to fall in love with one another, is what really sells Southside with You as the romantic comedy done right.
The only real gripe there’s to be had with the film was towards the climax, where Michelle encounters her boss at the movies and her fears of inner-office ridicule bubble up once more. It felt like a shift in tone that arrived too quickly, and was just as sporadically forgotten for the sake of returning to the love story, because the issue of her worries was never truly resolved. Perhaps that’s how things occurred in the true story of Barack and Michelle’s first date, but in terms of design in film, this one specific moment felt a little too unfocused, as its lack of proper resolution was a slight hindrance in the narrative’s flow.
Southside with You is a refreshingly humble love story that puts the recent array of mediocre Hollywood romance stories to shame. It feels like a breath of fresh air to see a romance film like this, one that doesn’t try to tug at your heart-strings with manipulative tactics like killing the boyfriend. It instead relies on the true details of Barack and Michelle’s “opposites attract” love story, and this feature comes across all the more exceptional because of it. Southside with You is unmistakably worthy of a second date.