Southside with you is up 60 points in the polls. With an 80% approval rating, director Richard Tanne can be sure that someone out there will see his movie. Months before the end of the President’s second term, this movie is an ode to the coupling of the Obamas. It is a dramatization of their first date. They walk around the Southside of Chicago, talking a lot.
At issue is the validity of a movie that shows a sitting president to be God-like. Is this, in fact hagiography? If it is, should it be shown before the beloved leaves office? We posed this question to a group of 12 critics whose numbers have been manipulated to represent a cross-section of the American public.*
We supplied those polled with dictionary.com’s definition of “hagiography”:
LET THE HAGIOGRAPHY BEGIN
Bring it on! The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis dryly challenges, in so many words. Declaring the movie hagiography, she points out that it is based on Obama’s recounting of his first date with his future wife in his book, The Audacity of Hope. In a clever twist of words, the review is entitled, In an Obama Biopic, The Audacity of Hagiography? Surely, someone chuckled.
Could it have been critic Armond White of The National Review? In an unusual turn of events, the ultra-conservative The National Review and liberal The New York Times align on the hagiography issue. White believes that at the center of the controversy are racial and political undertones. Here’s a mouthful:
...Southside with You is a projection of deracinated black characters, manipulated to support race- and class-based delusions by which the mainstream media and the political elite continue to misunderstand the black condition. Southside with You glorifies political totems who all but walk on water.
(Are the characters deracinated? Save that for someone else’s blog.)
DC or Pyongyang?
Political analysis continues with Britain’s Guardian.com. Critic Jordan Hoffman draws a parallel to North Korea:
Films glorifying sitting leaders is a little more North Korea’s bag. It is, without question, pure hagiography. That said, by all accounts Barack and Michelle Obama are warm, caring people.
(Can’t help but like that little addendum.)
Obama or JFK?
Thrillist.com’s Matt Patches provides another analogy that hits closer to home:
It’s hagiography, the JFK-ing out of Obama from leader to celebrity.
OH NO IT’S NOT
Many of those who believe that Southside with You is not hagiography concede that it comes close, but does not cross the line.
“The movie steers clear of any hagiographical temptations,” opines critic Luca Selada at goldenglobes.com. “In a way the first stepping stone to the Obama legacy–it now includes a love story on film.”
I know, badly put, right?
(Yes, a website devoted to the Golden Globes actually has movie reviews.)
It’s NOT hagiography, agree people across America–namely critics of Slate.com, New York Post, Northjersey.com, Kansascity.com, and Nola.com (We conjecture that 99% of the nation has never heard of that last one, but it does represent a segment of society.)
Res Ipsa Loquitur
The most compelling argument is from Vulture.com and Collider.com: It cannot be hagiography. Obama smokes practically nonstop in the movie, and a smoker is no angel, let alone a god.
A Real Opinion
Says David Edelstein of Vulture.com: “Southside With You is awkward and unsure, but it wins you over.”
Many critics compared this movie to Richard Linklater’s trilogy that started with Before Sunrise, where Ethan Hawke and Julia Delpy walk all over Paris, talking to each other. The verdict? Michelle and Barack’s conversation is not nearly as in-depth as that of Ethan and Julia.
*100% Margin of error