As Barack Obama nears the end of his presidency, the new movie Southside With You depicts his first date with Michelle as a loving romance. Departing presidents dont usually get off so lightly
American critics are drooling over the new movie about Michelle and Barack Obamas first date. Southside With You is a sweet, mature drama with layers of social and racial issues, family dynamics and, yes romance, according to Mashable. The result makes you realise how few realistic and three-dimensional date movies have been made in an era of throbbing hook-up encounters and R-rated horny teen gross-outs, argues the Hollywood Reporters critic.
Southside with You is a meet-cute with a twist When Potus met Flotus. Its about a hunkypants Harvard law graduate working a summer job at a Chicago law firm, where he falls in love with his no-less diverting boss, Michelle Robinson. The couple stroll through the summery city, visit a gallery, take in a movie and finally have ice-cream. During the evening they have the kiss that, apparently, recently made even hardened Sundance film festival goers come over all unnecessary.
Movies about departing US presidents arent supposed to be like this. Instead of praising their soon-to-be ex-presidents, American directors usually bury them. When George W Bush was slouching towards end-of-second-term oblivion in 2008, Oliver Stone released W, a film that depicted its eponymous hero as an incorrigible dumbass. Iran is not Iraq and Iraq is not Iran. I know that, Bush says unconvincingly at one point. The fact is you cant win, his mother, Barbara Bush, tells Dubya. Why do you say that? Because youre too much like me. Youre loud and youve got a short fuse. Now, Jeb is like your father. He thinks before he speaks.
Then there was Primary Colors, which came out in 1998, just as the Monica Lewinsky scandal was sullying President Bill Clintons boner fides. Mike Nichols adaptation of Joe Kleins novel dealt with a fictional southern governor called Jack Stanton (John Travolta), loosely modelled on Slick Willie, whose hopes of securing the Democratic party nomination are threatened by rumours of Clintonesque sexual indiscretions. Hes poked his pecker in some sorry trash bins, concludes Kathy Bates, playing a woman charged with investigating the governors lurid past.
What Clinton didnt need at this difficult time, reputation-wise, was that kind of implicit ridicule. Nor did he need a celluloid Hillary surrogate played by Emma Thompson telling her kids: Your grandfather was a great man. Jack Stanton could also be a great man, if he wasnt such a faithless, thoughtless, disorganised, undisciplined shit. But thats what he got.
In 1993, George HW Bushs presidency was celebrated by Lloyd Bridges in Hot Shots! Part Deux by a satirical reprise of the real-life moment the incumbent vomited sushi into the lap of a Japanese official.
This was undeferential enough, but two years previously Naked Gun 2: The Smell of Fear concluded with an even more undignified satire on the presidents wife. After saluting the crowds, our hero, Police Squads Frank Drebbin (Leslie Nielsen), knocks Barbara Bush off a balcony and then tries to save her by grabbing at her dress. Sadly, it comes off in his hands, leaving the first lady dangling from the ledge, half naked and wholly ridiculous. They would never have done that to Michelle Obama.
And then there was Ronald Reagan, whose second term in the Oval Office was marked in Back to the Future II in 1989. There he was ridiculed as a video waiter essentially a wizened bloke (think Max Headrooms great, great granddad) in a TV set charged with telling diners about todays specials.
Before Reagan, such scabrous movie treatments of incumbent presidents were scarcely thinkable. Even though All the Presidents Men (1976), starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Washington Post reporters exposing the Watergate affair, came out just two years after Nixons resignation, Tricky Dickys only appearance was on a TV screen.
Scriptwriters are presumably already eagerly sharpening their pencils for Trump: The Movie.
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