Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Southside With You" Tells of An Epic 'First Date' And Defines True Relationship Goals

Southside With You film poster.
Even if one didn't know the iconic names Barack Obama or Michelle Robinson (Obama), this wonderfully depicted story of their first "date" is a treasure for romantic enthusiasts worldwide. It has the solid makings for a sweetly authentic biopic. Man knows woman, woman knows man, but can they work together? Of course!
Honest charm and affectionate promise lace between superb dialogue and raw acting as Barack and Michelle discuss racism, feminism politics, activism, and the best of Stevie Wonder.

Michelle (Tika Sumpter) and Barack (Parker Sawyers) share their dreams.
Southside With You begins with Michelle preparing for a community meeting with Barack-- who slyly has plans of his own. Pumping out Janet Jackson, in an old car nearly falling apart, our little master manipulator pulls up to the Robinson home, with old-fashioned Southern hospitality and an effortless swagger. Michelle sees not only severely damaged vehicle, but hidden cigarettes. Her disdain is plain as day. It's the delightful albeit humorous start to several spars and hotheaded differences, a note on two determined individuals who often clash.
And their willful passionate natures is a well-rendered treat.   
At a visit to the art museum, the-not-yet-a-couple find themselves enthralled in urbanism meets Modigliani styled artworks of Ernie Barnes-- elongated black figures, moving, modestly dressed bodies, and bright, vivid colors. These two prominent entities, walking through genre paintings and sculptures of African Diaspora, discussing and analyzing what they see is one of the definite highlights. Their talks are real, honest.
Then it goes downhill with misconceptions and assumptions.
But there's nothing humble pie and chocolate ice cream can't handle.

Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter) against the world.
Tika Sumpter, who is likely to be considered for an Independent Spirit Award (and more) has come a long way since playing Layla Williamson (on-screen younger sister of recent Tony winning Renee Elise Goldsberry's Evangeline on One Life to Live). She's held her own in Sparkle and Queen Latifah's Bessie. However, Southside With You, grants audiences a taste of what an exceptional leading lady Sumpter can be. She has a refreshing screen presence that is dying to continue showcasing tremendous depth and incredible range. With beneficial aide of a dialect coach, Sumpter easily slips into the intelligent, sophisticated role of Michelle Obama, her poised body language (especially Michelle's infamous arched brow) and sharp vernacular right on par. She truly embodied black woman feminism when delivering lines on the struggles of being not just a woman, but a black woman climbing high in a white patriarchal profession.
Newcomer Parker Sawyers was a befitting choice as the young, chain-smoking president-to-be. Utterly charming, silkily smooth, and with Barack's authoritative voice to match, Sawyers was the definite answer to a challenging casting call. First of all, he mesmerizes as a powerful, compassionate orator (one of Barack's finest talents), secondly, shines as a smitten man instilled in the art of wooing (but not in a way that is creepy or  caveman), and lastly, flawed humanism of Barack's shortcomings.   
Barack takes Michelle to see Spike Lee's riveting Do The Right Thing. The direction is awkward, almost clumsy way of getting both Lee's famous work and reactions of the future President and First Lady in cinematic frames.
Their chemistry is an enduring chess match. By day's end, the inner cheerleader roots for the man to win the woman. They're evenly matched-- a winning combination.
Although Southside With You isn't a flawless masterpiece, it is a nice, irresistible treat to nibble on. Whereas most black films feature woman being named ugly names under the sun by cruel, ignorant men or women desperately pandering to masculine appeal, Richard Tanne's first directional/screenplay writing effort dismantles stereotypes and pigeonholes. Barack is a complete gentleman, very attentive, respectful, and protective of Michelle. He is a chivalrous, smart man in early throes of awe. In the meantime, Michelle, guarded, resilient, and tough, slowly starts to fall under the crackling spell of a future commander-in-chief, without losing her dignity and grace. Her dark skinned black beauty, not waxed on poetically, is something witnessed in the way she articulates a word, casts a glance, shifts her body.  And viewers are left astounded by Barack's fascinating testimony.
Southside With You is a film that will stay in heart and mind, retain a certain kind of rustic spirit, that lingers long after John Legend's song and Ernie Barnes paintings disappear from the screen.

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