Southside with You


A hot summer day in Chicago; a good day to make history.

A hot summer day in Chicago; a good day to make history.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Donald Paul, Phillip Edward Van Lear, Deborah Geffner, Jerod Haynes, Tom McElroy, Preston Tate Jr., Fred Nance, Donn C. Harper, Angel Knight, TayLar, Alex Zelenka, Deanna Reed Foster, Gabrielle Lott-Rogers. Directed by Richard Tanne

 

Before they were the most powerful couple in the world, before they were household names, before they were Fox News’ favorite punching bags, they were a just a couple of African-Americans in Chicago trying to make a difference. One had just graduated from Harvard Law and was a summer intern in a prestigious law office, the other was a lawyer for that firm who also happened to be that budding lawyer’s mentor. At that stage of their lives, they couldn’t have possibly predicted what was to come.

Michelle Robinson (Sumpter) was putting on her make-up and getting dressed to go on. Her mother (Calloway) asked her about her upcoming date to which she snapped it was “not a date” – she just liked to look presentable. She was going to a community meeting with that promising young intern she was mentoring. His name is Barack Obama. “Barack O-what-a?” asked her father (Van Lear) gruffly.

Obama (Sawyers) arrived for the “not-a-date” several minutes late, pulling up in an extremely old car in which a hole on the passenger side allowed the passenger to see the road up close and personal. Nevertheless he’s cheerful and persistent. It’s clear he has taken a shine to his beautiful but aloof mentor. She is stern however; she’s the only African-American woman in the office and she has to work twice as hard just being a woman and another twice as hard on top of that for being African-American. Getting romantic with the first cute African-American man to come into the office would definitely set her reputation back. Obama’s response was only “You think I’m cute?”

They have some time before the meeting so Obama cajoles her into going to the Art Institute of Chicago for an exhibition on local African-American art. One of the artists being displayed is Ernest Barnes, whose works decorated the house on the Good Times sitcom, similarly set in Chicago. The works there move the two to recite the Gwendolyn Brooks poem We So Cool which seems to perfectly illustrate the pool hall painting that is one of Barnes’ most well-known.

After a brief park bench lunch and an interlude watching some people do a traditional African dance, they attend the meeting where Obama is well-known and adored and where he gives a speech that will hint at his powerful oratory in years to come. Afterward there’s a movie (Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing  to be precise) then ice cream – and a first kiss. In between there’s lots of conversation, the kind that sometimes goes on for a lifetime. Of such things marriages are made.

In a sense I’m not sure why this movie was made, or at least made now. It seems to be an effort to portray the President and First Lady, who have earned a place in history by virtue of being the first African-Americans elected to the highest office in the land, as just ordinary human beings. I don’t have a problem like that, any more than Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln did the same for the nation’s most beloved president. However, Abraham Lincoln has been dead for more than a century; Obama is the sitting President and it seems a tad presumptuous in some ways, although I suppose the same could be said of Oliver Stone’s W which presented a much less flattering picture than this film does.

In fact at times the script veritably gushes and thus those who are not supporters of the President may well find this movie about as palatable as liberals find the collected works of Dinesh D’Souza. The account here is slightly fictionalized although the actual events of the date are mostly accurate but there seems to be a concerted effort to idealize both the President and the First Lady. Supporters of the President (as I am) will certainly find more to like here. I do have to caution however that even I found the tone a little bit uncomfortably fawning towards the 44th President.

Sumpter and Sawyers both handle their roles well, capturing the cadences of their speech down nicely and some of their mannerisms. Sawyers even has the protruding ears that the President is often caricatured with and which Michelle gently ribs him for here. More to the point, the movie also idealizes the time and the place; the late 80s in Chicago with an urban soundtrack that is a little bit on the pop side (some Janet Jackson and retro soul) that is not going to offend anyone. It also captures the urban beauty of Chicago’s South Side almost lovingly with shots bathed in golden summer late afternoon light.

This is a pleasant film but then there are a lot of pleasant movies out there. The filmmakers aren’t trying to make a point about presidential policies or the legacy of Barack Obama at least overtly. One of the big issues I have with the movie is that it feels a little sitcom-like recalling Good Times a little too closely in places, as well as a little romcom-like with some of the cliches of that genre standing front and center. To the movie’s credit it captures the rhythms of life in an African-American big city community with affection much as Spike Lee is able to.

People are inevitably going to filter this movie through their own political belief system. That’s unavoidable. If you called the lead characters Michelle Jones and Barack Smith, it would certainly change your perception of it and perhaps that’s the best way to go about it. All in all we’re left with a movie that’s relatively inoffensive in a romantic sense but at the end of the day seems to portray the future President and First Lady through rose-colored glasses. That may not necessarily be your cup of java but for my money – and you can take this from someone who has voted twice for Barack Obama and supports his efforts in the White House at least to a point – it might give you a different perspective on the most powerful man in the free world (at least until January 2017) which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s sometimes nice to take a step back from the rhetoric and be reminded that the public figure is also a person.

REASONS TO GO: Has a Spike Lee vibe in places. Revels in its soulfulness.
REASONS TO STAY: Feels a little bit idealized. Combines sitcom and rom-com cliches, not a good thing at all.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity, a disturbing image, a drug reference and the future President smokes like a chimney.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to the director, all of the events that are depicted in the movie actually took place on the first date by the Obamas with the exception of the community meeting which happened on a later date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chi-Raq
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Bad Moms

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New Releases for the Week of August 26, 2016


Don't BreatheDON’T BREATHE

(Screen Gems/Ghost House) Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Emma Bercovici, Franciska Töröcsik, Christian Zagia, Katia Bokor. Directed by Fede Alvarez

A group of friends decide to rob the house of a blind man in order to finance their getting out of town and starting new lives elsewhere. It should be easy pickings, right? Wrong.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for terror, violence, disturbing content and language including sexual references)

Equity

(Sony Classics) Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Nate Corddry, Carrie Preston. The world of high finance has traditionally been a man’s world. It is harder for a woman to break through the glass ceiling there than perhaps any other industry. When one woman, whose brilliance has brought her to the threshold of breaking that ceiling but whose caustic and sometimes abrasive personality has not won her many supporters gets involved in an IPO that could put her over the top, it looks like she might finally achieve her dreams. However, she may have to choose between that goal and her ethics, which on Wall Street is usually a no-brainer.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for language throughout)

Floyd Norman: An Animated Life

(CBS) Floyd Norman, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Maltin, Don Hahn. Norman was the first African-American animator at Disney and was involved with some of their more classic films. As time went by however he became something of a gadfly and was eventually forced to retire at 65. Now 85 years old, he continues to stir the pot even as his place in history, largely forgotten, is beginning to at last be justifiably secured.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality)

Hands of Stone

(Weinstein) Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, John Turturro, Usher Raymond. Roberto Duran is perhaps best-known for his “No Mas” fight with Sugar Ray Leonard but one has to remember that in his day he was one of the most feared and skilled fighters in the world. The story of the Panamanian boxer, who continued to fight in the ring until retiring in 2002 at age 50, is one that is little known in the United States – until now.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a music video and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

Mechanic: Resurrection

(Summit) Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Yeoh. Arthur Bishop, one of the world’s deadliest assassins, had faked his own death and put his life of murder and mayhem behind him – or so he thought. He has been found and in order to save someone he cares about, he must kill a list of some of the most dangerous men in the world – and he’s on the clock. You just know however that he is going to turn the tables on those who are trying to use his skills. You play with matches, you’re gonna get burned.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence throughout and language)

Southside with You

(Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Donald Paul. On a hot summer day in Chicago 1989, a young law firm associate is attending a community organizing meeting with a lawyer from that firm. Their day takes them from the Art Institute of Chicago to a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing to a ice cream parlor. They’re both just starting on the road to a life of service to their community. Their names are Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson and this summer day “not a date” would turn into an event that would change the course of American history.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC The Loop, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference)

Tickled

(Magnolia) David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, David Starr, Hal Karp. A New Zealand-based documentary filmmaker is intrigued by an online ad asking for young men who didn’t mind being tickled on camera to take part in a competitive tickling competition. What he discovers is a bizarre miasma of corruption and secrecy that leads the filmmaker to a shocking discovery that is too strange to be fiction.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing content)