Something New

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Something New

ROMANCE/DRAMA:

United States, 2006

U.S. Release Date:

2006-02-03

Running Length:

1:40

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sexual Situations, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard, Donald Faison

Director:

Sanaa Hamri

Screenplay:

Kriss Turner

Cinematography:

Shane Hurlbut

U.S. Distributor:

Focus Features

Subtitles:

none


Something New is something old and very familiar. This is an opposites attract romantic comedy, with a racial twist thrown in to add a little spice. Actually, these days, with mixed race relationships becoming commonplace, it's debatable how big a "twist" this is. 30 or 40 years ago, a movie about a black character dating a white one was radical. Today, it doesn't raise an eyebrow. Society's views have changed to the degree where it has become possible to use the premise of the serious Look Who's Coming to Dinner for the sit com-ish Guess Who.

I'm willing to give credit to first time director Sanaa Hamri and her screenwriter, Kriss Turner, for acknowledging the difficulties inherent in a mixed race relationship - complications that go over and above those found in any coupling. If they overdo it, blame it on dramatic license. Hamri's point is that love transcends skin color, and it might not have come across as clearly if the two characters in Something New didn't have as many obstacles to overcome. So we have disapproving parents, disapproving friends, and a disapproving brother.

All of that disapproval is aimed at Kenya (Sanaa Lathan), a successful black businesswoman with a woeful private life. When she embarks upon an unexpected love affair with her landscaper, the white Brian (Simon Baker), no one knows what to think. There's a certain amount of relief that Kenya is flowering, but consternation that she's not opening her petals with someone more "appropriate." Enter the Romantic Complication, in the person of a legal magnate (Blair Underwood) who's rich, charismatic, and smitten with Kenya. So will she choose pale door #1 or darker door #2? Consider the genre if you want the answer.

In actuality, Something New is more Kenya's story than it is that of Kenya and Brian. He's her love interest, not the other way around. The film is presented from her perspective. During the course of the story, we meet her friends and relatives but, aside from a glimpse of his father near the end, the only one we meet who's associated with Brian is his canine companion. This point-of-view, which is atypical of romantic comedies, makes Something New seem a little less like every other romantic comedy out there.

Lead actress Saana Lathan (Love and Basketball) folds herself into Kenya's personality, bringing out the woman's strengths and weaknesses in equal measure - her obsession with business (fueled by the so-called "race tax") and her vulnerability when it comes to her personal life. What could easily have become a caricature is instead developed into a believable, sympathetic, three dimensional character. On the other side of the relationship, Simon Baker is not as compelling, but that may be because he is given less to work with. The chemistry between them is there, however, and some romantic comedy fans will argue that's all that matters.

First-time director Hamri wastes no time showing off her wares. Sometimes it works, but there are times - such as an inexpertly handled lazy Susan shot early in the film - when it becomes distracting. There is one moment worth calling attention to, however. During the scene immediately following Kenya and Brian's first sexual encounter, as they lie together in bed, the lighting (an orange-yellow) is such that they appear to have the same skin color, with their racial differences at least temporarily banished. This is one instance when Hamri is able to use visual cues to italicize her theme.

Something New may not be able to convert die-hard cynics, but it will please romantic comedy lovers of all genders, colors, and persuasions. The film is not riotous, but it is sporadically amusing, and the love affair is respectful of the characters, not fatuous. Something New argues that just because something is familiar, it doesn't have to be stale.





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