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Southside With You (2016)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/13/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/12/2016

Movies which focus on powerful figures have been a stable of cinema since the very beginning. The public appears to be obsessed with strong and influential characters, and these films often track their ascension to their power, and typically their downfall as well. Typically the point is to watch how these individuals achieved their stature and what they did with it. Rarely do we see a film which takes a step back and contemplates what one of these key players was like long before they entered the public eye. But, thatís exactly what we get with Southside With You.

The year is 1989. The time of year is summer. The place is Chicago. A young law student named Barrack Obama (Parker Sawyers), has arranged to meet with an associate at the law firm where he is working. Her name is Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). He has convinced her to join him at a neighborhood planning meeting. Barrack picks Michelle up at her house, but as itís some time before the meeting is set to begin, they visit a few sites around the city. But, she makes it very clear that they are not on a date. As they walk and talk, the two begin to learn about one anotherís families, lives, and goals. During their discussions, Michelleís not sure of what to make of this man. But, when he speaks at the meeting, she begins to see what like underneath.

Again a biopic about an American President is not an unusual thing. We've seen tons of them. But, it's rare for one of these films to appear while that individual is still in office. The last time that we saw this was with Oliver Stone's W. back in 2008, which focused on George W. Bush. Of course, that was not a flattering portrayal of that particular Commander-in-Chief and some would argue that its release was timed as a political ploy to aid the Democrats in the election. It looked at Bush's time in office and some of his history.

With Southside With You, Writer/Director Richard Tanne has taken a decidedly different tactic in his examination of Barrack Obama. Instead of turning towards Obama's life in the White House, or even his historic election, he steps back even further in time to look at how the relationship between Barrack and his future wife Michelle. Unlike most other Presidents and First Ladies, this couple have always presented themselves as a team. Therefore, it's a very interesting and, in some ways, a very logical step to scrutinize how this future power-couple came together.

The problem with Southside With You is that it never moves past its curiosity factor. Yes, the point is to be a fly on the wall as Barack and Michelle get to know one another. So, all that we get, for the most part, are two characters talking the whole time. There is little else going on here. In order for the film to succeed, their conversations would have to be truly engrossing, and they rarely are. The portions of the talk when they are discussing their families and their upbringings are interesting, as this gives us a closer look at who these now famous people are. The rest of their chat focuses on their personal beliefs and some about their aspirations. Knowing who they turn out to be, this has some pull, but overall, it's not that engrossing. Here's the bottom line -- If this movie had been about two random people, and not about the man who would become the leader of the free world and his equally impressive wife, it would have come across as crushingly dull.

Southside With You is yet another one of these movies which would really benefit from "pop-up video" style subtitles telling us which moments are 100% true, as you will be asking this out loud throughout the film. Again, this is an odd movie in that the subject matter is undeniably intriguing, but the final product fails to be completely engrossing. Examining the first date and only the first date is a novel concept, but I would have liked to have seen more of Barack and Michelle as they grew to know one another. While Sumpter is perfectly fine as Michelle, the casting of Sawyers as Barack is perfect and he nails the role. Southside With You is a good curiosity piece, but don't expect to be blown away.

Southside With You could have spent more time talking about Obama's car on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2:35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. Tanne has shot the film in a very natural style and the colors look very natural and real. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the picture is rarely soft. The depth looks good as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven drama, we don't get a wealth of dynamic effects here. As the pair walk the streets, we get some stereo and surround effects from the traffic noise. The music in the film offers some stereo effects and some mild subwoofer.

The Southside With You Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We being with an AUDIO COMMENTARY for Writer/Director Richard Tanne. "Original Artwork & Animations" offers six odd pieces that play like screensavers. They are pictures which offer a little bit of movement which were clearly made to promote the movie. The final extra is a THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long