Southside with You

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President Obama’s fans and haters alike will find something to enjoy in this slightly stilted yet oddly fascinating account of the Harvard law student’s (Parker Sawyers) first date with Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), the woman who would eventually become his wife. The visuals are pure hagiography: Chicago appears mostly as a verdant paradise, full of cultural riches (African-American museum exhibits, a drum circle in the park) and decent, civic-minded black folk. (There is mention of both gangs and violence, but darned if we ever see any; even the projects feel bright and cheerful.) The soundtrack drips with dreamy guitar work. And the acting has a careful, respectful feeling to it — even as the future leader of the free world admits to spending a fair chunk of high school lost in a marijuana haze, he remains coolly in control of the situation. Which is a little strange, since the film centers on Michelle, who goes into the day believing that Barack is “just another smooth-talking brother” and insisting that they’re not on a date. The rest of the movie is Obama’s first political campaign; he’s looking to become Commander in Chief of her heart, and from the outset, he proves willing to deceive, manipulate, cajole, attack, push, and bribe his way toward his objective. You know he wins in the end; what the film arguably suggests is that Michelle — the strong, intelligent black woman looking to make it on Planet White Male — loses. Written and directed by Richard Tanne. (2016) — Matthew Lickona

Rated PG-13 | 1 hour, 21 minutes
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