Movie Review: Southside With You

By Andrew Burns, Contributor

[Get Lifted; 2016]

Rating: 5.5/10

Director Richard Tanne likely started his project Southside with You with the intention of giving audiences a more intimate depiction of the Obamas. In some regards,Tanne succeeds at showing the audience the personal lives of the Obamas. Instead of shamelessly depicting the two in overwhelmingly positive lights for political gain, Tanne shows not only the good in the Obamas, but also problems they have faced. Both characters are complex, flawed individuals with the purest of intentions. Each are well-rounded characters, with their own interests, anxieties, and desires. Depicting the American president in a biopic while they are in office is a difficult task that has not been done since 1963’s PT 109

The director must find a balance in their depiction that does not shamelessly promote them or slander them. It is best for the movie to attempt to be as impartial as possible. Southside with You offers a fairly impartial depiction of the characters, but promotes the issues that the Obamas have fought for over the past eight years. The result is honest and just what I wanted to see, but the promotion of issues important to the Obamas may alienate conservative viewers. The characters may be exactly what is wanted, but the dialogue between the two, at least when it comes to their relationship, leaves much to be desired. The film takes place at the beginning of their relationship, entirely on the day of their first “date”. The film attempts to depict them wanting to be together, but refraining from being together due to professional concerns. This approach is explained well, but is executed ham-fistedly in the dialogue. Both characters, more so Michelle, seem to be exercising some restraint, but the script is permeated with awkward lines of adulation. It lacks any subtlety, a quality called for from the context of their desire to refrain from a personal relationship. The film is a romance and requires the characters to flirt with each other, but there is no reason for it to feel so awkward and forced.  

The film managed to find its best moments through addressing racial issues. During the second half of the second act, the Obama relationship is temporarily benched as the focus of the movie. Barack Obama steps up to give a speech on racial issues and the problems facing an African-American community. Racial issues play an important part in the film as both Obamas testify to unjust treatment based on race. The motif of racial issues somewhat strengthened Southside with You, but it could not save it from being an underwhelming romance story.

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