REVIEW / BIOGRAPHY ROMANCE DRAMA
SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU (PG13)
84 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars
The story: Legal associate Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) has been trying to get lawyer Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) to go out with him. Eventually she agrees, although she insists it is not a date. They spend a day together, going from a museum to a meeting at a church to a screening of Spike Lee's drama, Do The Right Thing (1989).
Could this film - a portrait of the outgoing United States First Couple as they were in 1989 over the course of a summer day in Chicago, Illinois - be anything other than respectful and safely sweet?
After all, the subjects are none other than one of the most powerful men in the world and his wife.
And the fact that they ended up together is a matter of fact, not an issue that is open to speculation.
So the somewhat surprising answer to the question is yes.
First-time writer-director Richard Tanne made the smart decision to follow Obama and Robinson over the course of one day and not be overly ambitious.
The day-long set-up has been employed to great effect in films such as Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995).
Here, viewers get the sense of the couple as two intelligent, idealistic people simply getting to know each other, and they are admirably fleshed out by the actors.
In his first leading role, Sawyers, who bears more than a passing resemblance to a young Obama, impresses with his ability to imbue the character with confidence and conviction.
Sumpter (Ride Along, 2014), who also produced the film, is very much his equal as the more wary and world-weary Robinson.
Instead of robbing the film of dramatic tension, knowing what we know now makes it fun when she describes her suitor as "that jive- talking stereotype from Good Times", referring to a comedy about an Afro-American family that ran from 1974 to 1979.
Issues of race and mobility are addressed - Robinson sometimes feels like she is "going from Planet Black to Planet White" when she goes to work and the choice of film that they watch is deliberate - but Tanne avoids being heavy-handed about them.
There is also a scene of Obama winning over a group of doubters in a modest local church with his words, foreshadowing his rousing speeches in real life on the presidential campaign trail in 2008.
As Robinson remarks, that is a "pretty good setting to bring a girl".
In the process, he wins over his date and the movie wins over the audience.