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Southside With You (Review)

26/09/2016 12:00

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Since Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the "walking and talking" romantic drama has become a staple - but none so far have featured an African American couple.

Southside With You follows the first date between Barack Obama and the then Michelle Robinson - only it's not a date, as she insists. The problem? She is an associate at a prestigious law firm and Barack's advisor and sees any relationship other than a professional one as strictly inappropriate. Barack has one evening to convince Michelle otherwise - and he is a very determined young man.

He invites her out on the pretext of attending a community meeting - but doesn't tell her what time the meeting is taking place as a ruse to spend more time with her. Michelle is less than impressed when he is late picking her up but he scores points later when he takes her to an exhibit of African American art and impresses her with his knowledge of poetry. Michelle is curious about his background. Having lived in Indonesia and Hawaii, he is a citizen of the world; she speaks French fluently but has never left the US.

When they do eventually arrive at the meeting, Barack impresses with his charisma and charm, as well as his ability to unit the crowd and galvanise their energy and passion for the greater good. Here we have a glimpse of the statesman he is to become.

After the meeting, the pair go to see Spike Lee's powerful film, Do The Right Thing (I still think Lee was robbed at Cannes when the judges awarded the top prize to Steven Soderbergh for Sex, Lies and Videotape, which is pretty much unwatchable now). And it's after the movie that things come to a head when Michelle runs into her boss and his wife.

While Obama takes the chance encounter in his stride (displaying a taste of the politician he will be), Michelle is mortified. She bridles at her boss's suggestion that the pair are an item and demands to be taken home.

All hope is lost it seems. But Obama is not to be deterred so easily. As we know, it all turns out well in the end.

A smart script by writer-director Richard Tanne delivers on a number of levels. And Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers are both excellent in the leads. There are some lovely touches - Michelle creaming her skin before leaving the house; looking through a rusty hole in the floor of Barack's car; enjoying an impromptu drumming session. Southside With You is a delightful Sunday afternoon of a film - one you will want to watch again and again.

Southside With You is in cinemas now

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