The end of Barack Obama’s tenure as US President may still be months away, but already his nation’s filmmakers are attempting to deconstruct the man and wrestle with his complex legacy. Richard Tanne’s Southside with You bears the distinction of being the first fiction film to tackle the current Commander-in-Chief, but it’s far from the probing biopic many may be hoping for. Instead, Tanne has taken a premise fit for the Hallmark Channel – a feature-length reconstruction of the Obamas’ chaste first date – and fashioned it into a surprisingly effective slice of heightened naturalism, which calls to mind accomplished walk-and-talks like Before Sunrise and Medicine for Melancholy. Up-and-comers Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter are superbly cast as the future First Couple, both absolutely looking the part whilst delivering understated performances that never descend into caricature. Meanwhile, first-timer Tanne proves himself a natural behind the camera, crafting a sun-dappled, woozily romantic portrait of 1989 Chicago on a shoestring budget.
While the craftsmanship is hard to fault, some may be frustrated by the narrowness of the film’s scope and its depiction of the pair as charismatic young idealists. The occasional moment allows room for a slightly more cynical interpretation – when the couple visits a local community meeting, it becomes apparent that young Barack has gone to comically calculated lengths to show off his best side. But on the whole, this is an earnest love letter to the coolest presidential couple we’re likely to see for some time.
Southside with You (My First Lady) | Directed by Richard Tanne (USA 2016) with Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter. Starts September 15