Credit: Matt Dinerstein

After almost eight years in office, America knows President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama well as they are now. How did they meet and evolve into the First Family, though?

Southside With You from writer-director Richard Tanne transports the camera to Chicago, 1989. Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) was working at a law firm in her second year, when Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers), the slick, young summer associate, enters, working under her supervision. Michelle eventually succumbs to go to a community event with Barack — not a date, she insists — before it turned into a real date that included stops at Chicago’s Art Institute, a showing of Do the Right Thing, more city sights, and bonding over a desire to do more for the world.

Southside premiered at Sundance in January, but is now making its way to theaters nationwide. And critics love the love story of the Obama’s budding romance.

EW critic Leah Greenblatt hailed Sawyers and Sumpter in her ‘B’ review of the breezy hour-and-a-half date, as well as the simplistic storytelling. “Southside doesn’t hang on epiphanies; instead, it delivers something more modest: a tender, unrushed love story,” she writes. Fellow critics also commended the pair’s chemistry and engaging impressions of the Obamas.


Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly)

“Because history has already told us where all this is headed, there isn’t much inherent mystery. That leaves writer-director Richard Tanne to build his narrative around something other than dramatic tension, and the route he chooses has the loose, discursive intimacy of indie cinema. … Southside doesn’t hang on epiphanies; instead, it delivers something more modest: a tender, unrushed love story.” B

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)

“Writer-director Richard Tanne’s first feature can simply be enjoyed as perceptive, intelligent, entirely credible imagining of how these two very bright young lawyers broke the ice during a long afternoon and evening in Chicago in 1989. It was a long shot to be convincing but it plays very well, and an enterprising distributor could do very nicely with this across multiple audience segments.”

Manohla Dargis (The New York Times)

“Sweet, slight and thuddingly sincere, Southside With You is a fictional re-creation of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. It’s a curious conceit for a movie less because as dates go this one is pretty low key but because the writer-director Richard Tanne mistakes faithfulness for truthfulness. He’s obviously interested in the Obamas, but he’s so cautious and worshipful that there’s nothing here to discover, only characters to admire. Every so often, you catch a glimpse of two people seeing each other as if for the first time; mostly, though, the movie just sets a course for the White House.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

Southside With You is at its best when it’s just Barack and Michelle on the screen. They end up, no surprise, dealing with deeper matters, including his troubled relationship with his father and her frustrations at the firm. When these two are one-on-one with each other, this is a date to remember.”

A.A. Dowd (A.V. Club)

“Sawyers, who bears a certain resemblance to Obama, has the flashier of the two roles, mainly by virtue of getting to play the president as a maturing ladykiller — smooth, passionate, and also pretty proud of his silver tongue. But Sumpter, probably best-known for the Ride Along movies, has a trickier task. Doing a lot more than just replicating the first lady’s sharp, precise enunciation, she keeps her character’s best judgment and growing affection in perfect equilibrium, as Michelle tries to fend off feelings for the decent, complicated guy pursuing her.”

Justin Chang (Variety)

“That Southside With You has meticulously reverse-engineered our knowledge of the Obamas into a sweet, sexy, highly flattering youth portrait is less a criticism than a simple statement of fact. Whether taken as storytelling, propaganda or an artful hybrid of both, it’s a movie that unabashedly wraps its real-life subjects in a humanizing embrace.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)

“Thanks to a nimble, fast-paced, witty script and sure-handed direction from Richard Tanne, and immensely charming performances from Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers, Southside With You is maybe the most romantic movie I’ve seen this year. This is first and foremost a romance — not a political statement, not a hagiography of the Obamas, though we’re sure to read some op-eds and hear from some talk-show shouters claiming otherwise.”

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 75

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 84 minutes

Starring Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter

Directed by Richard Tanne

Distributor: Miramax

Southside with You

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 84 minutes
  • Richard Tanne