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Southside with You: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Southside with You (2016) movie poster Southside with You

Theatrical Release: August 26, 2016 / Running Time: 84 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Richard Tanne

Cast: Tika Sumpter (Michelle Robinson), Parker Sawyers (Barack Obama), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Marian Robinson), Phil Ed Van Lear (Fraser Robinson III), Taylar Fondren (Janice), Deanna Reed-Foster (Bernadette), Jerod Haynes (Tommy), Gabrielle Lott-Rogers (Rafiqa), Preston Tate, Jr. (Kyle), Donn Carl Harper (Curtis), Tom McElroy (Avery Goodman), Stephanie Monday (Laura Goodman)

Buy Southside with You from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

It is the summer of 1989. A Harvard Law student in his late twenties who is working for a firm in Chicago goes out with one of the firm's associate lawyers.
It is the first date of Future President of the United States Barack Obama and his future First Lady, Michelle. Written and directed by Richard Tanne, Southside with You presents this day as it might have played out for a couple that nineteen years later would make history upon rising to power.

Barack (Parker Sawyers) is an easygoing smoker with a beaten-down car. Michelle (Tika Sumpter) is a straight-laced professional who is living with her parents, including an MS-afflicted father. The two disagree on whether or not this constitutes a date. Michelle says it doesn't, arguing that a date wouldn't be appropriate given their common workplace. Barack concedes, but you can tell he's treating this like a date and one he has been trying to get for some time.

Parker Sawyers plays the young Barack Obama in "Southside with You."

The two are to attend a meeting about building a community center for children in Chicago's rough, crime-addled South Side. But that meeting is not until the late afternoon, giving Barack and Michelle time to look at art, share lunch, and discuss their families. They clash a little, with Barack passing some judgment on her, but he wins her back with some captivating and inspiring oration at the meeting. They proceed to get beers and see Spike Lee's much-buzzed about Do the Right Thing.

Southside is grounded in fact. The Obamas have discussed their first date, which fittingly included that cinematic landmark about race relations. Tanne fills in the details, from the two clashing over pie versus ice cream to Barack opening up about his father's incomplete life and his experiences dating white women.

As far as historical romantic comedies go, this one is remarkably appealing. There aren't a lot of U.S. presidents whose first dates with their wives would yield this kind of treatment. In fact, there's probably the Kennedys and the Obamas. Don't hold your breath for When Donald Met Melania. Like a good chunk of the American public, Hollywood loved Obama and as much for his personality as his politics and policies. All that lends to Southside existing. But for it being compelling, the credit must go to Tanne.

Tika Sumpter portrays Michelle Robinson, the future First Lady of the United States.

The writer-director benefits from having a strong cast. Parker Sawyers, who has held bit parts in movies dating back to Zero Dark Thirty, does a most admirable job of portraying the young Obama.
He has the voice down pat, but it comes naturally, never feeling like an impersonation. Sumpter looks more like Michelle, but she is a little too convincing as a stuck-up Ivy Leaguer, succeeding at rubbing you the wrong way.

There is definitely greater value in this than most movies you could classify as romantic comedies. The film is a little slow, despite its short runtime (end credits start rolling before we hit the 80-minute mark). The score generates drama where there otherwise isn't any. The romance is also complemented by some tasteful shots of life in the predominantly black Chicago neighborhood where this is set. Southside does a fine job of recreating 1989 without overselling this as a period piece.

Though Roadside Attractions gave it a modest release, peaking at the second weekend's 897 theater count, Southside still managed to command a respectable $6.3 M in domestic theaters, where it opened in late August to overwhelmingly favorable reviews. It hit home video in mid-December, with the Obamas a month away from vacating the White House.

Southside with You: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 13, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $13.99 (Reduced from $24.99)
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($19.99 SRP $10.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Perhaps because it was made for just $1.5 million, Southside with You doesn't look quite as polished as new studio fare. The Blu-ray's 2.35:1 picture is a bit grainy throughout. Whether that is by design or not, you may notice but probably won't significantly mind. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is perfectly commendable.

The future Michelle Obama joins in an African dance party in an original marketing painting inspired by the film and Ernie Barnes. Michelle and Barack take in a Chicago art exhibit on the Southside with You Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Richard Tanne. Young and inexperienced, he predictably brings a lot of enthusiasm to the track and cites his influences like Do the Right Thing and Body Heat,

discusses why frames are composed like they are, points out deliberate techniques and coincidental effects, and explains the rationale behind his soundtrack selections (from choosing a tune last featured in Ghost Dad to avoiding too many pop hits from the time). An above-average listen, anyone who really likes the movie should find this worth the 80 minutes it requires.

Next up, we get six "Original Artwork and Animations", paintings depicting scenes from the movie in the style of prominently featured artist Ernie Barnes. These atypical poster designs can be seen in motion for anywhere up to 4 minutes, which is kind of a weird, excessive way to see them, but a nice way to hear the compelling score that accompanies them.

Southside's extras conclude with its Janet Jackson-featuring theatrical trailer (2:32), a nice inclusion that should be standard but rarely is.

"Also from Lionsgate" repeats the five trailers, with which the disc opens. They promote The 9th Life of Louis Drax, "Greenleaf": Season One, Mr. Church, Mr. Holmes, and A Hologram for the King.

The main menu loops the peppy film-opening score over a montage of clips. The disc is authored both to resume unfinished playback and to support bookmarking.

A Digital HD insert accompanies the plain gray disc inside the slipcovered blue keepcase.

Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter) run into a work colleague after getting out of seeing "Do the Right Thing" in theaters.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Southside with You offers a highly appealing and reasonably believable imagining of how Barack and Michelle Obama's first date went. A cut above most romance movies and not overtly political despite the subject matter, this little indie deserves a look. Lionsgate's Blu-ray offers an agreeable feature presentation plus an enthusiastic commentary.

Buy Southside with You from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed March 23, 2017.



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