First the good news: Actor Parker Sawyers, who plays the young Barack Obama in Richard Tanne’s 84 minute bio-love story, “Southside with You,” looks exactly like Barack Obama, except that his ears are too small; otherwise he is the uber doppleganger.

Tika Sumpter, who plays the younger Michelle, doesn’t look anything like Michelle; but one out of two ain’t bad.

“Southside with You” is a tale told in soft muted tones, with Disney cum Hallmark movie of the week romanticism.

We visit the day Harvard law student Barack took his law firm adviser, Michelle, out for a walk on the Southside of Chicago, to visit the sites where he had been working as a community organizer.

I’m sure more than one critic will tag it as a Richard Linklater “Before Sunrise” stroll with Obama as Ethan Hawke and Michelle as Julie Delpy. Because, as in Linklater’s film, precious little happens. Well, love begins to happen, but for Barack, it’s a tough sell.

Throughout the 84 minutes, including the 10-minute credit crawl at the end, this handsome young couple walk and talk, sit and talk, stroll through a museum showing of the work of the brilliant African American painter Ernie Barnes, and talk.


Actually, and I mean this, that exhibit and the run of Barnes paintings in the crawl is worth the price of the ticket.

Of course, viewing from this point in history, we know from the very moment they meet, as he picks her up at her Southside family home, where Michelle’s father asked “Baraka whata?” that the future leader of the free world had been struck by her the moment he first saw her.

This happened at an intern meeting, where she was chosen to be his guide. He knew from that instant that she was going to be his first lady in some form or the another, maybe just as a lawyer, a grocery store owner or NBA basketball star.

We doubt he had the White House in mind, but of course we do, and that’s what keeps this 84 minutes from lulling us to sleep.

In a way, it’s kind of fun, and I’m sure that Tanne’s idea was for us to visualize this happy young black couple years in the future. But now, in this feature, we have to tag along with this lovable duo through a hot Chicago day, with Michelle resisting Barack’s idea that it is a “date.”

They dance to some Chicago park African drummers, and share a lunch that she insisted on paying half of.


We learn some new things: Michelle loved chocolate ice cream and didn’t like the piece of pie Barack bought for her.

“Who doesn’t like pie,” he growls.

Later on he buys her an ice cream cone, and we can see that his persistence is wearing her down.

But even after 84 minutes of walking and talking, stopping and chatting, I was unable to detect a definitive moment of surrender.

We do get a glimpse of the future orating Obama, whose poster HOPE adorns our walls and whom we’ve elected twice, when he takes her to a community meeting.

Here he confronts and soothes the members, when they are fired up over the city’s refusal to give them a community center.


He placates them with that “no drama, Obama” style and wins the day in front of his dream girl, who keeps insisting that she is not about to be anyone’s dream, let alone a tall skinny, black law student driving a car with a porous floorboard.

“I have bigger plans,” she says.

If she only had known how big.

“Southside With You” is not without merit; both players are charming and talented, as is director Tannes. I look forward to his full-length feature, the one he does about them 30 years from now.

J.P. Devine is a former screen and film actor and the author of “Will Write For Food.”

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