“It was a cool date actually,” Michelle Obama once recalled in a video of her first outing with the young lawyer in her Chicago firm named Barack Obama.
“We spent the whole day together,” starting with a “nice long walk,” followed by lunch beside the courtyard fountain at the Chicago Art Institute and a movie, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”
“He showed all the sides. He was hip. Cultural. Sensitive. The fountain, nice touch. The walk, sensitive.”
“Take tips, gentlemen,” her husband chimed in.
It’s anyone’s guess what would have happened had they not met and not married, or if, after that date, she didn’t think it, or Barack Obama, was so cool.
Who would the nation miss most, him or her? Would he, could he, have become president without her?
Anyway you look at it, it was a fateful and romantic day in 1989.
And now it’s a long-awaited movie, “Southside With You,” opening Friday at about 800 theaters after its debut at Sundance 2016, with a PG-13 rating (apparently for the smoking) and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 88, which is pretty good.
People who liked its listing on IMDb also liked “American Hostage,” described as pulling “back the curtains on a terrorist plot centered on a group of terrorists holding two American soldiers hostage on U.S. soil. They demand the release of all prisoners of Guantanamo Bay or they will kill the soldiers.”
That doesn’t sound like an exact match with the Hollywood Reporter’s suggestion that “Southside” is “projected to do well among African-American women, art house audiences and general consumers feeling nostalgic about the end of the Obama presidency.”
The executive producer, John Legend, an Obama friend, says he has nudged the president and first lady to “check it out soon,” adding, however, that, as the Hollywood Reporter said, “it might be uncomfortable to watch yourself being played by someone else on the big screen.”
The actor who plays the president, Parker Sawyers, looks exactly like the president, circa 2000, however, rather than 1989.
Tika Sumpter, the actress playing Michelle Obama, bears some resemblance to the first lady.
The trailer shows her resisting his attempts to get her to go out with him. She considers it “inappropriate,” as they work in the same Chicago law firm and as a woman, and a black woman at that, she says she’s got to “work a little bit harder to earn everyone’s respect.
“How’s it gonna look to a guy like Thompson [wonder who he is] if I swoop in and start dating the first cute black guy who walks through the doors?”
“You think I’m cute?” says the young Barack.
“I didn’t say that,” says the young Michelle.
That does sound a little like a “classic meet-cute with a twist,” as EW’s Chris Nashawaty wrote after it debuted at Sundance.
Or like “When Barry met Michelle,” as Michael Phillips wrote in the Chicago Tribune.
It’s “a portrait of a president-to-be as a young John Cusack,” says AP’s Jake Coyle, “riding in a beat-up yellow Datsun and flicking his cigarette ash out the window … ”
Some other reviewers seemed more impressed.
“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,” wrote The Washington Post’s own Stephanie Merry. “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 is earning comparisons to ‘Before Sunrise’ for its easygoing pace and dialogue-heavy depiction of courtship,” Merry wrote. “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.”
Here are some other opinions:
… As as a work of imagination inspired by fact, the film shimmers with warmth. Sawyers captures both the easy, loping rhythms of our future 44th President’s speech and the long-stride elegance of his carriage. Sumpter is equally terrific: She doesn’t quite resemble Michelle Obama, but she manifests perfectly the future first lady’s under-the-radar determination, always tempered by empathy. As first dates go, this was a doozy. [Director Richard Tanne] presents it as a sterling illustration of what two people can do when they face forward, together.
Their depth of character is realized in the actors’ controlled and alert performances, the probing and self-revealing dialogue, and Tanne’s agile directorial impressionism, which captures their discerning and questioning glances. The climactic sequence, at a screening of “Do the Right Thing,” is a small masterpiece of comic psychology. This tender, intimate drama has the grand resonance of a historical epic.
Southside with You may not announce itself as hagiography, but it’s hero-worshipful to its core. For all its charms, including a climactic first kiss that comes as a result of Barack and Michelle sharing some ice cream, the film is a preaching-to-the-choir celebration of Barack Obama and all that he represents. It’s a sweet work that doesn’t add anything insightful to our understanding of these real-life figures beyond affirming their radiant public images.
Only the Obamas can truly fact-check the film, which is said to have been pieced together from books, articles and interviews and has been described as “90 percent accurate” by Tanne, a not very helpful figure, as it leaves viewers guessing about the remaining 10 percent.
And even the Obamas might be stumped by the dialogue: How many couples remember an entire day’s conversation about anything, even on their first date, perhaps especially on their first date.
For those interested, here’s the real president and the real first lady briefly describing their first date: