This is the first time I have reviewed a romance film since I began this whole critic thing. You don’t need to be an astrophysicist to know that most critics don’t like romance films, I am no exception. Often time, they will be cheesy (High School Musical), over-the-top nonsense (My Super Ex-Girlfriend), focus on random musical numbers (Mamma Mia!) rather than a coherent story, or will simply be the one of the worst things ever made (Twilight). Heck, even Gone with the Wind was ruined for me by a pathetic, manipulative, annoying, man-eater female character as the lead. In addition to this, I am not one for politics. I don’t pay attention to the news, get involved in internet flame wars about it, and I don’t have nearly enough of the facts to belong to a particular political affiliation. Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, let’s talk about one of the best romances of the 2010s.
Southside with You is written and directed by Richard Tanne. Stars-Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, and Vanessa Bell Calloway. Premise-Southside with You shows the story of a 1989 summer when Barack Obama attempts to win the heart of his crush, Michelle Robinson.
During this time of political overload in the U.S., it is incredibly refreshing to see a film that doesn’t shove agendas down your throat. Southside with You only focuses on the date. What makes the film work are two incredible performances from Sumpter and Sawyers. They are portraying Michelle/Barack in their twenties, and you can see them adopt the characteristics of each person rather than being insulting impressions of them. Initially, it looks like they have no chemistry, but after you realize that perhaps this is what happened on the actual date, you will be thoroughly invested in their story. The progression of their relationship feels genuine, and that is because not every moment is sunshine and rainbows. There’s the initially awkward moments, the conflicting personalities/backgrounds, and the love of each other’s company.
Tanne does an admirable job with the setting of the film, as well as the soul of Chicago. The soundtrack is beautiful, the costumes are simple yet elegant, and the dialogue is near-perfect. The film addresses racial/sexism issues, but not beyond “racism/sexism is bad and it’s a problem with society.” Some would prefer if it took more risks, but I think that it’s ok. I’d rather they stay focused on the excellent romance. It’s not an awkward teen drama, or a sickly-sweet childish love story, or an elegant Disney fairytale, just two people spending a day together.
If there was anything that I didn’t like, it would be the cinematography. The camera is either too close up or very low to the grown most of the time. Not as bad as Ben-Hur (2016), but pretty distracting. Also, some scenes drag on a bit. Most of the film is Obama and Robinson talking. While these scenes do tell us about the two, it’s not as exciting as the moments in the film where they have to work out their differences or overcome a societal obstacle.
The last thing I have to talk about is the M.M.M scene. Yep, a romance with a Movie Minute of Mastery, who knew? *NO SPOILERS* It takes place in a church where a town meeting is being held. The whole group (townspeople and priest) are black, and they have just been denied by the state to build a community center for their children. The priest asks Obama to give a speech on what they should do. The dialogue as a whole in this movie is excellent, but this particular scene is so freaking good! The words that are spoken are just the right words, Parker Sawyers is thoroughly convincing, and this scene is a great example of how Obama became such a powerful orator. It is this scene that disproved any remaining doubts I had about Southside with You.
2016 is a year where people (not just people on the internet) are quick to shout their opinions and demonize others. You see it in politics (with the election coming up), in the media (where cops most notably are under fire), and in film (where everyone was scared to be honest about the terrible Ghostbusters remake in fear of being the target of a witch-hunt). To see a first time director make all the right decisions with his screenplay makes me so happy. To be honest, Southside with You is up there with End of Watch (the best cop movie of modern cinema), High Noon (a film about doing the right thing when no one else will), and The Social Network (self-explanatory) in the category of “movies that people living in 2016 need to see.” Southside with You gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.
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