The first ever North Bay Film Festival is finally here, bringing with it thirteen incredible independent and international features, as well as gala events, panel discussions, industry workshops, and of course parties. After a year-long wait and many hours of preparation, it’s incredible to see it coming together. Seeing the smiling faces, hearing the back and forth banter about movies, and interacting with patrons has turned this into one of my favorite experiences in recent memory. Whenever possible, I’ll be giving some very brief thoughts on the movies I’ve managed to catch. The North Bay Film Festival runs from September 29, 2016 – October 2, 2016 at the Capitol Centre in North Bay, Ontario. Tickets and passes are available at the box office, and information on the lineups and start times are available at www.northbayfilmfestival.ca. We hope to see you there!
Southside with You (2016)
Directed by: Richard Tanne
Written by: Richard Tanne
Starring: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers
Richard Tanne’s directorial debut chronicles a single day in the summer of 1989 when love is in the air. Future POTUS Barack Obama swindles the future First Lady Michelle Robinson into coming to a “meeting” with him. Along the way they visit an Afro art exhibit, hang out at a park, walk and talk around Chicago, and see Spike Lee’s brand new controversial film Do the Right Thing. Whether it’s a date or not is entirely up to Michelle, as Barack has made his feelings clear from the word go.
What I Liked:
- The performances for the most part are excellent, especially Tika Sumpter’s portrayal of Michelle Robinson. I could feel how conflicted she was at all times, trying not to fall for Barack’s charming first date, but wanting so badly to at the same time. Parker Sawyer’s Barack Obama is terrific as well, but I found his performance at times to come off as stilted and maybe just a little robotic. I guess in that way it’s quite similar to the President, but it didn’t feel genuine in the context of the film. He comes off as incredibly charming and confident through most of the film, which is the important part.
- The atmosphere is perfect. Though I wasn’t there, Southside with You feels like how I imagine the summer of 1989 in Chicago felt. Racial tensions still hang thick in the air, rap and soul music is blasting from every car stereo and boombox in sight, and people are out enjoying the heat, dressed terribly and having a great time.
- The film does not go into the politics of either Barack or Michelle for more than a few seconds, turning what could have been a Democratic echo chamber into a film accessible for absolutely everybody.
- The pacing. Southside with You is a brisk 84 minutes long, and feels even shorter than that. We never linger on any part of the date for too long, jumping to the next logical point in the timeline before things can become stale or repetitive.
- The walking and talking style is my favorite version of the romantic film genre. It’s clear that Richard Tanne has seen and admires Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight). He does his absolute best to match those films in tone and lightheartedness.
What I Didn’t:
- Unfortunately, in copying Linklater’s trademark style, the film does feel pretty minor and inconsequential compared to those movies. Instead of waxing poetic about all the things young people love and care about, Barack and Michelle spend most of their time talking about work and their communities, which at times made me want to yell at them to lighten up a little.
- The film is clearly a very romantic depiction of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, as both character come off as very angelic and perfect throughout. It would have been nice to visit some of their flaws or downfalls, but the movie isn’t interested in painting them in a realistic light, it’s almost exclusively about their courtship.
- The attempt at bringing gravity to the film in the last act feels completely forced and unnatural. Tanne wants the audience to question whether or not Barack and Michelle will actually end up together, but we all know how this thing ends. It feels like more of a mark he felt he had to hit instead of something compelling and genuine.
Overall, my complaints about Southside with You aren’t nearly enough for me to tell anybody not to see this movie. Whether you lean left or right on the political spectrum, you’re going to find something to love about this film. It’s charming, it’s funny, and it’s got two very good performances from young actors that I now have my eye on. It’s imperfect, but damn if it isn’t a hell of a lighthearted, feel-good film. Southside with You is recommended.