Liberals get a romance for the ages in Michelle and Barack with Richard Tanne's directorial debut, Southside With You, which recounts the First Couple's first date in the manner of a Before Sunset that's been cleaned up and sent to Sunday school for some manners. Writer/director Tanne has done his research. The first-date divulgences rolling off of Michelle (Tika Sumpter) and Barack's (Parker Sawyers) tongues seem unusually detailed -- do people really reveal all their secrets within 30 minutes? -- but this isn't any normal couple. Barack takes Michelle to a community-organizing event so she can hear a speech wherein he tells the crowd they need to get past thinking that "'no' is the end of the line." It's an interesting, canny rhetorical gambit, and not just political, because Barack spends many minutes leading up to that scene crossing Michelle's boundaries with some no-means-yes skeezing. As uncomfortable as those scenes are, they're also setting up a central tension -- Michelle can teach Barry about rules and respect, and Barry can give Michelle a taste of life without limits.
Sawyers seems to have absconded with one of the real Obama's discarded cigarette butts and sucked in his Marlboro Red essence, while Sumpter gives a solid but overshadowed performance as the more rigid Michelle -- she at first offers a one-dimensional reading of the dutiful, rule-abiding lawyer. But as Michelle breaks out of being straitlaced and pushes back against his more arrogant tendencies, Sumpter embodies her character with greater ease. Still, both actors occasionally hit stumbling blocks with the wordy script and Tanne's direction, neither of which allows quite enough room for the characters to think and feel on screen.