Saturday, September 10, 2016

Southside With You (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Southside with You

The producer Richard Tanne  strikes a clear, refreshingly lively and heartfelt note in his directorial debut "Southside with You," portraying  the early courtship of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. This film is vibrant, concise and beautifully understated. It is truly one of the warmest, most affectionate films that you are likely to see this year.

Above all, the film is telescopic, dispelling all extraneous details of agenda or large political issues. What you see is what you get: Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter) in a simple story of interest and romance. This is a short story of only ninety minutes, but it is also sweet and impactful with nearly every frame haunting and easing into poignance, given our current enervating election cycle.

 It is 1989 in Chicago. A young Obama is smoking on a tattered couch. His apartment is cluttered and messy. He is late. Cut to Michelle Robinson whose surroundings are immaculate and pristine compared to the askew scholarly clutter of Obama's apartment. Michelle is surrounded by pink peachy hues and looks like a flower.

Barack puts his vehicle into drive and off he goes, the battered car huffing and puffing all the way, mimicking  the young man's smoking. The camera pays special attention to Obama's hands: long elegant fingers foreshadowing their future intent, deliberating upon the country as our future president. For now though, these fingers are nervous, skittering across the steering wheel, incomplete and jumpy.

Barack arrives at the Robinson house, Clark Kent-like in a white shirt and small loping movements. Michelle is resolute and formal, her gait smooth and measured. This is not a date. But when the two visit an art center filled with African art and see the vibrant paintings of Ernie Barnes, they realize that their own lives are filled with possibility. The motion and magical realism of Barnes' work exists organically within Barack and Michelle, and all of us.

The story unfolds slowly and without pretense. Obama gives a spirited speech and Michelle takes it all in with curiousity, no more no less. Drama comes and then just as quickly goes, like life itself. The overriding magic of this valentine is its unapologetic humanism. There are no Washington superheroes here, just a single young woman meeting a man. The only super effect is one of romance, having the power to turn the couple into two living beings depicted in Barnes' paintings: wild and swirling humans, both birdlike and solemn, who may or may not affect change.

The subtle trick of "Southside with You" is that it maintains suspense and wonder complete with a pair of soft exhales, even though the outcome is oft-told and historically known.

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