Mr. Darcy. Heathcliff. Rhett Butler. Edward Rochester. They’re all swoon-worthy male characters, and now there’s a new name to add to the list: Barack Obama.
Kind of weird, right? But somehow it works in Southside With You, a movie that revisits the 1989 summer day when Obama and future first lady Michelle Robinson had their first date.
The movie premiered at Sundance to warm reviews. Relative newcomer Parker Sawyers nails his role as the cool, chain-smoking Obama, who moves fluidly through the world, even when he’s confronted by Tika Sumpter’s tightly wound Michelle — his adviser at their big-time law firm who insists that they aren’t on a date.
No matter, “Bar” slowly breaks down her defenses with his intelligence, passion and knowledge of Gwendolyn Brooks poetry. The pair first head to the Art Institute of Chicago, before going to a park for lunch, a community organising meeting (where he gets to show off his oratory skills), a screening of Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and a Baskin-Robbins for chocolate ice cream and a first kiss.
The movie is earning comparisons to “Before Sunrise” for its easygoing pace and dialogue-heavy depiction of courtship. But the conversations in “Southside” sound more scripted and less off-the-cuff than that cult classic — more like a play than a movie. Not that the level of artifice affects the enjoyability of the movie, which is warm and sweet and nods to the pair’s future without too much winking.
So what do the president and first lady think of the movie? During a post-show panel, writer-director Richard Tanne explained that the Obamas are aware of the film, though they haven’t yet seen it.
“And we know from a very reliable source that they’re both excited and baffled that it exists,” he said.
Hey, us too! It’s a little strange that the president’s first big-screen treatment is in a romantic drama. But Tanne had wanted to make the movie since before Obama took the oath of office.
“There was that look they give each other — an authentic, real look of love; even a sexiness,” Tanne told Vulture. “That’s rare in people you just meet on the street, let alone in public figures.”
“It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I never considered the political ramifications,” the writer-director told CNN. “I really wanted to tell a love story, but as I was writing it, and as we were making it, it did occur to me that there’s a sort of dramatic irony in the sense that everyone watching the movie will always know what they went on to do.”
But will Tanne’s humanistic approach to his subjects be enough to get conservatives to see the movie?
“It’s not Republican, Democrat or anything else,” Sumpter promised during the post-movie panel. “It’s just a love story.”
The Washington Post