President Barrack Obama is on his way out of the White House, which means that the biopics are storming this way. Netflix has their young Obama film Barry releasing this Friday, but the streaming titan wasn’t the first company to hop on the Obama biopic train. Just a couple months ago, we were treated to Southside With You. From the outside, it may sound a bit lame. “A movie about Michelle and Barrack’s first date? Boooooring!” Although many of you may have said this and passed the film off as nothing more than cheap Oscar bait, you may not want to be so quick to judge…..
Summer 1989–A young Barrack Obama (Parker Sawyers) finally manages to ask out the girl he’s been wooing over at work, Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). It’s not exactly a conventional “date”, especially with Michelle’s resistance to workplace romance, but the two use the “date” to learn more about each other and the world around them.
First off, I don’t even think it’s fair for me to call this an “Obama movie”. It’s Michelle’s movie just as much as it is Barrack’s and the movie uses its time to teach you about both of them. Not through narration or cheap writing, it’s through genuine conversation between these two people. The reason that the audience is learning about these two is because they are also learning about each other, this being their first “date”. That’s where I need to give a huge pat on the back to writer/director Richard Tanne, who manages to make this film with almost no sappiness or cheesiness at all. A couple sappy moments here and there, but not nearly enough to make a difference. Hell, not nearly enough to count on one hand. The biggest attribute to this film is that it is “genuine”, as I said before. The dialogue isn’t flashy, the characters aren’t cutesy, and the film doesn’t try to have any agenda. It’s just about two people and the interesting things that you may not know about them. I don’t know the accuracy of the film’s content as far as True Life goes, but Tanne handles this film with such care that you never for once feel like what you’re being told may not be true.
Possibly the biggest question about this film is; how are the leads? This is the first time that the true life characters of Michelle and Barrack Obama have lead a feature film, so the big worry is bad acting/impressions. Thankfully, the actors here are perfectly cast. Parker Sawyers is PERFECT as Barrack, so much so that I can only imagine that he spent some considerable time with POTUS himself, because the mannerisms are so subtly done, the delivery of his lines totally match what I’ve seen from Obama, everything about his performance shows that he’s not just doing this for a check. When you watch this, you’re not watching someone play Barrack Obama, you’re watching Barrack Obama right there. You feel like you’re watching him, not someone play make-believe. As good as Sawyers is, Tika Sumpter manages not to fall behind. She takes charge of her screen presence just as Sawyers does, truly embodying Michelle. Sumpter manages to pitch-perfectly nail the Michelle Obama you see giving speeches and interviews, capturing her attitude and drive so much so that you can’t help but have even more respect for her. Whether you like him as President or not, I think that Barrack and Michelle Obama are very strong-willed, smart people—which this film captures just right.
Now that we’ve gotten past how well this portrays Michelle, Barrack and their first date, there’s something else about this film that I found particularly interesting. As I said before, this isn’t just an “Obama movie”, the city of Chicago and its culture also show up in very intriguing ways. Not only that, the film also touches upon race issues, women struggling in the workplace, religion and many other matters in only brief, tasteful chunks. It helps to give us a sense of the world at the time, what they had to go through. This is a very intimate film, it makes you feel close to these characters and their lives in its brisk 84-minute runtime. By the way, that’s a runtime that manages to fly by like nothing. Right when you’re thinking “Okay the film is starting to slo-” the movie’s over. That to me is the sign of a compelling film, the fact that I never once checked my watch during those 84-minutes.
I may not have walked out of this saying “Wow, incredible! Best movie of the year!” but let me stress this to you, this is a really good movie. I admire this film so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if I liked it even more the second time around. The film does justice to Barrack and Michelle Obama, delivering a very genuine, down-to-earth story that at the end of the day honestly feels like a conversation between two people from beginning to end. A very good conversation, mind you. The acting is pitch perfect, the cinematography is great, it’s directed well, it’s just a damn fine film all the way through. Plus I just love to see a film where there’s so much care and love coming from every department, enthusiastic to be working on this–and it pays off.