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"Southside With You"

U.S. Dramatic Competition


"Southside With You" is a sweet and sincere romance, and a fascinating one — since it presents a fictionalized take on the most important first date in the free world. It's 1989, and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), an associate in a Chicago corporate law firm, is preparing to spend the day with one of the firm's summer interns, a young lawyer named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers). "This is not a date," Michelle tells Barack, but there's obvious attraction both directions. Writer-director Richard Tanne follows Michelle and Barack to an art exhibit, a community-organizing meeting where Barack gives an impassioned speech, and a screening of "Do the Right Thing." Along the way there are long conversations — about work, Michelle's supportive parents, Barack's still-burning anger about his father, and even their favorite Stevie Wonder songs —┬áthat, in the vein of "Before Sunrise," trace the pair slowly falling in love. Tanne's dialogue is rich and thoughtful (regardless of whether it's historically accurate), and Sumpter and newcomer Sawyers inhabit the roles of the future First Couple with easygoing charm.

— Sean P. Means

"Southside With You" screens again at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival: Monday, 6:30 p.m., Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City; Tuesday, 9:30 p.m., Redstone Cinema 1, Park City; Thursday, 5:45 p.m., The MARC, Park City; Friday, 6 p.m., Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City; Saturday, noon, Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room.