“Ah, first dates. They’re one of the few events that seem tailor-made for movies—laughably awkward at worst, usually, and enchantingly imbued with promise at best. But of course, Southside with You is not about a date—just ask Tika Sumpter’s Michelle Robinson, who spends most of the biopic’s first trailer informing anyone who will listen that her day about the town with a young man named Barack Obama is most certainly not a date. The biopic, coming to theaters August 26, offers a charming backstory to one of the White House’s most charming couples, with no shortage of nods to what the future holds.
As Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson noted in his review from the Sundance Film Festival, the movie doesn’t make the most satisfying biography. Parker Sawyers plays an easy, endearing Obama, but as Lawson wrote in his review, Sumpter’s more stilted part, shortchanges viewers on what could have been a fascinating peek into the young, ambitious Michelle Robinson’s inner life before she became Michelle Obama. Still, writer/director Richard Tanne said in January that the real-life Obamas are “excited” by the film, although they’re “also a little baffled by its existence.”
The movie is set for wide release in August, and screened at Sundance to mostly positive reviews. Lawson compared the movie to Before Sunset (2004), while Variety’s Justin Chang compared the Tanne’s feature writing/directing debut to Before Sunrise (1995), adding that in addition to the film’s romantic allure, the movie also touches on a number of other themes including “the many challenges (and varieties) of African-American identity,” and a tension Obama is now quite familiar with from his tenure in the White House, “the need for both idealism and compromise.”
But let’s not discount the value of the romance itself. The Obamas have been a singular First Couple in many ways—not the least of which is the way they translate to the public as a relatable, appealing family…”