Shortly after the 2008 Presidential election, South Park aired one of their greatest episodes of all-time, About Last Night. With their usual juvenile yet savvy aplomb, Trey Parker and Matt Stone gleefully eviscerated both sides of the aisle, but their coup de gras was that the entire election was an elaborate jewel heist. Heck, it turned out that Barack and Michele weren’t even married…they were just two crazy kids, who through the course of the heist fell in love. And with DeBussy’s “Clair de Lune” playing over the closing scenes, those two crazy kids decide to give it all…love…marriage…the presidency…a chance.
Even the crudest of satirists could see that the real-life Barack and Michelle were in love. And that love’s first glimmers spark over the course of 84 minutes in writer/director Richard Tanne’s quasi-fictionalized account of one fateful summer day in Chicago in 1989. The compact film is full of small pleasures and big dreams. Small talk and big dialogue.
There’s a great sequence where the soon-to-be couple enjoy the artwork of Ernie Barnes at the Art Institute of Chicago and Barack (Parker Sawyers) gets all professorial about Good Times, a show Michelle (Tika Sumpter) never watched growing up. What is it about Chicago that lends itself so well to people looking at art in films? For a moment I thought this might turn into Barack and Michelle’s Day Off. Or take for instance a lovely walk in the park where the talk about their childhoods. Or after drinks, a prescient showing of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Man, how I miss the Spike Lee who made Do the Right Thing…and Jungle Fever…and He Got Game…and yes, my friends, even Bamboozled.
Regardless of your politics, Southside with You is a lovely film about two well-educated, ambitious people grappling with issues of race, sex and their place in this world, enjoying their city and art and each other. They walk and talk with the best of them in ways that would put a smile on Richard Linklater’s face. And after sunset, an ice cream cone, and a first kiss they retire to their respective homes to think thoughtfully about their day and time spent together and start dreaming about all that is yet to come…especially that jewel heist.
Written by David H. Schleicher
Side Note: Does anyone know the name of the Ernie Barnes painting shown in the closing credits that depicts a very well dressed couple with long, exaggerated strides walking down the street, she with a dog, he with a cane? I can’t find it anywhere on the internet…