What do I do when I’m despairing of the world we live in and desperately missing the dignity, reason, and humanity of the Obamas? Watch clips of that time President Obama was on Between Two Ferns? Or the Carpool Karaoke segment featuring Michelle? How about masochistically torturing myself with images of them in happier times (portrayed by actors who really look nothing like them)? Why; what do you do?
Southside With You
Where to Watch:
The Uncondensed Version:
Michelle Robinson lives at home with her parents despite her position at a top corporate law firm in Chicago. Even though Michelle has some serious pampering going on, she’s definitely not going on a date with Barack—it would be inappropriate since Michelle is his advisor, he’s only working at the firm for the summer, and she would get so much shit from the higher ups if she dated the first young black guy who walks into the firm.
Barack, meanwhile, is just smoking, reading, and talking on the phone because of course he is. The two will be attending a community even in the Gardens, a housing project in Chicago. Sounds like there’s no way to interpret that as a date…right?
While Barack is easy-going and laid-back, Michelle is hyper-aware of the hard work, self-discipline, and commitment to following the rules she must continually embody to succeed in the swarm of middle-aged white men that is the law firm. Barack shows up late to pick her up and drives a car with a hole rusted through in the bottom (which is true).
Michelle has worked hard for her education and position at the law firm, though she seems unsatisfied with the tedious work and condescension from the higher ups (as indicated previously, middle-aged white men). Barack is extremely perceptive and asks if the firm is really what she’s frustrated with, and she insists yes—yes, it is.
At this point, Barack springs art exhibit and lunch on Michelle, admitting they have time to kill before the community event. The exhibit highlights black artists, including Ernie Barnes, the artist whose work was made famous by Good Times (no joke). He also recites Gwendolyn Brooks poetry to her, which may or may not have happened IRL, but either way is fucking unfair and has the immediate effect of melting everyone within a 50 foot radius.
After the exhibit, the two bond over sandwiches and learn shocking revelations–specifically that Michelle doesn’t like pie, though she does like chocolate ice cream. Barack damn near breaks my heart when he reveals he hates ice cream after spending a summer working at Baskin Robbins (which I understand on a rational level but still devastates me personally). We get a bit of a peek into their very different childhoods and learn that Michelle’s dad has MS (which I didn’t know before watching this).
At long last, it’s time for the community event, which conveniently gives Barack the opportunity to showcase his inspirational speechmaking skills and for the church ladies to bust out their stories about the lives he’s turned around and what a cool dude he is in general. Rather unrealistically, he gives a speech without once saying “let me be clear,” “here’s the deal,” or “it will not be easy.”
Michelle sees right through this ploy, but is still rather impressed. We all are, girl. They have a meaningful discussion about their fatigue with doing what’s convenient over what’s right with genuine conviction–something I really fucking miss seeing in the US President.
The evening wraps up with a showing of Do the Right Thing, unfortunately interrupted when they run into a top partner at the law firm, who is a condescending smarmy bastard. Michelle reflects once again on the way their relationship will be perceived and how it could destroy the career she has worked hard to build. Does this mean there will never be a second date???
…I mean, there are really no spoilers here, so suffice it to say that chocolate ice cream can solve pretty much everything and I believe it may be our last decent shot at world peace.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I’m not sure it’s possible to be objective with this review. I teared up several times at places that were never intended to be sad because I fucking miss the Obamas and their strength and intelligence and compassion. I love and miss them, but I just want them to be happy. They’ve always deserved better.
Though it takes place nearly 20 years ago, the commentary feels very contemporary. Michelle describes the challenges she’s faced as a black woman that are still very much in place today. At one point, Barack and Michelle walk through a tunnel memorializing the many black Chicagoans who died violently–a tunnel that would surely have exponentially greater names today.
There are some self-satisfied moments that get a bit unbearable at times (like when Michelle comments on what a great speechmaker Barack is, wink wink nudge nudge). And admittedly, the actors really don’t look anything like Barack and Michelle except for the hair styles, but the acting is convincing enough that you can pretend after a while. I really appreciated the glimpse into Michelle’s character that we’ve never gotten, especially as her role as First Lady was the one the world saw her inhabit. Let’s not forget that prior to the Presidency, Michelle was bringing in a much bigger salary than Barack and being an all-around badass.