When the trailer dropped for ‘Southside with You’ I had mixed feelings about it. Mixed feelings being, wanting a cute black rom-com to get its just due like every other rom-com and being very concerned about the actor’s performances that verged on lackluster yet very serious impersonations of the Obamas; while not actually wanting to shell out the dinero to see how well it all went. But alas, after having a friend proclaim it’s amazingness I decided to woman-up, and see what’s what...on my parent’s dime.
Welp, let’s cut to the chase, the movie is boring. Like watching paint dry boring or more accurately like being the third wheel on a first date boring. We’re literally just watching two regular-shmegular people talk work, family and principles before they become the dynamic, interesting figureheads we now love and adore. And it’s not that the acting is necessarily all that bad, you can tell Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers are doing their best with this bland script, the fault instead lies with Richard Tanne the (white) writer/director who wrote a movie that’s better suited for the Lifetime channel than a feature screen at the theatre. Even the production value is reminiscent of an underfunded tv movie. Every shot is cloaked in shadow hiding the faces of these two beautiful black people even when they’re in direct sunlight! And the blurred out unrecognizable “Hyde Park” backdrop, we were all so keen on seeing. Shameful! Dude, part of the reason people went to go see this movie was for the enjoyment of being able to point out certain landmarks across the Southside especially in Hyde Park which erected a plaque on the corner where the Obamas shared their first kiss or whatever and we don't even get to see that corner! Dude, come...on!
Now, duh a lot has changed in Hyde Park since 1989 but not everything. There’s still the U of C campus, the Midway, Osaka Gardens in Jackson Park, Museum of Science and Industry and just really most treelined side streets in the neighborhood so what’s the excuse? I’m sure the crew is familiar with the term “cheating a shot” so why the despicable negligence? This is a movie about a date, not a historical document that demands unwavering loyalty to the facts. To keep an audience engaged you have to set the stage for interesting visuals especially when the dialogue is just not cutting it, which leads me to the characterization of the Obamas.
There is a deafening lack of levity in this movie leaving us with very one dimensional interpretations of the First Couple especially Michelle Robinson, who comes off as the biggest buzzkill of all time. Yes, yes I know she doesn’t want their outing to be mistaken for a date but damn does she have to be so unpleasant to make her point? She’s arrogant, curt, and cutting to a starkly light and lively Barack. Personally, I wanted him to get the hell outta there instead of wasting his time trying to court this sour grape of a woman. The only scene where she gets some light in her eyes is at an African-American art exhibit Barack takes her to before the obvious setup at the community center, his lure for their evening out. Tika...er...um...Michelle is so clearly taken with the art that perhaps the director should’ve taken a note and just staged the entire film there, that might’ve actually been more interesting, Michelle’s lusty affair with art, hmmm. But listen I could go on and on about this film’s missteps, I wasn’t particularly happy with a random African drum circle Michelle gets swept up in or the far too long and saccharine Altgeld garden community meeting where things start taking shape for future Barack, despite them all this film needed to be made.
‘Southside with You’ is an example of the much needed variety in content we’re currently lacking in cinematic representation of the Black community’s romantic relationships and well relationships full-stop. In its averageness it hones in on something we don’t often get to see Black people on screen...being average. Often the media bombards us all with images of Black people exemplifying heartbreaking stoicism in the wake of tragedy, the carnage of our bodies being strewn across screens for acceptable voyeurism or exhibiting reckless sexual abandon and the damning tidal wave of problems that follow in its wake. Each scene an exaggeration of social problems that wreck all communities yet most commonly associated as root problems in ours. And one way of combatting said problems are to show Black people being well...people. Sounds crazy to be saying this in this century but alas here we are. Being a fan of dynamic storytelling, I would like to see our dimensions grow in the sci-fi, fantasy, horror and action/adventure genres, placing characters of color in unconventional and captivating circumstances. In all we need more, more historical dramas, more comedies, more of everything so that we can move on from the complaints of “They only want to see us suffer on screen.” to more robust conversations on what the next frontier can be.
So, do I recommend ‘Southside with You’ for your viewing pleasure? Yeah sure, it’s cute and wholesome which is a rare feat for Black folks on film, but also because with the support and proliferation of films like these it’s possible we get closer to making more films that will push us beyond the stars.