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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Southside with You re-creates (with dramatic license) Barack and Michelle Obama's Before Sunrise-esque first date in 1989, long before their time in the White House. The two main characters are portrayed as idealists who are determined to change the world for the better. Expect some social drinking (beer), smoking, and swearing (including one use of "f--k"), as well as and lots and lots of conversation, much of it thought-provoking and compelling. Characters talk about about race riots and racist treatment in the Ivy Leagues. Themes include empathy, curiosity, and courage -- especially the kind it takes to allow yourself to be vulnerable to someone else.
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What's the story?
In SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU, Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumter) is working at a law firm as a second-year associate. Despite her reluctance, she agrees to hang out with a first-year associate/former community organizer named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers). He's intelligent, thoughtful, sometimes combative, often amusing, and always a good listener -- all of which endears him to her, even though he smokes and is sometimes presumptuous. No one who wasn't there can say exactly what transpired in real life when the Obamas met each other, but this film attempts to put us right in the thick of things.
Is it any good?
One of the biggest pleasures of this romantic drama is watching two conversational and intellectual heavyweights go toe-to-toe on their first date (or rather, non-date). Southside with You is full of interesting dialog and discussions that really follow the natural arc of conversations. Kudos to Sumter and Sawyers, who -- in the way they depict everything from how Barack lights a cigarette to how Michelle defuses an argument -- reveal both the strengths and the challenges of this relationship. Like the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series, this movie depends on its stars' verbal and mental dexterity, and they don't disappoint. Sawyers has nearly all of the president's mannerisms down: His walk has the confident grace; his cadence, the oratorical patterns of the actual president.
Sometimes watching Southside with You does feel a bit like eavesdropping on a conversation that's better left private, and the pace can get frustratingly slow. And sometimes, given that the two characters, after all, eventually become the president and first lady, it can feel like you're watching Mom and Dad go on their first date. But overall, it's worth it to be the third wheel, so to speak.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how accurate you think Southside with You is. Why might filmmakers choose to alter/change what happened in a movie based on a true story? How can you find out more about what happened?
Barack and Michelle discuss racism and sexism very frankly; what do you think of their conversations? Are they relatable? Thought-provoking?
What's the significance of Do the Right Thing in the movie -- and during the summer that it came out?
What do you think this first date/non-date signifies for both Barack and Michelle, personally and professionally? Is it strange to watch the courtship of public figures?
- In theaters: August 26, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: December 13, 2016
- Cast: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Taylar Fondren
- Director: Richard Tanne
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Romance
- Character strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 81 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference
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