Something New doesn’t entirely live up to its title, but as yet another fish in the sea of romantic comedies, often the most misfired films in Hollywood, it gets the job done for couples in search of a Valentine’s Day cinema fix. It doesn’t resort to idiotic and poorly executed slapstick, bizarre contrivances, or any of the other numerous pratfalls that infest most offerings of the genre. Instead it actually wises up to its hot topic subject matter and in a constructive and thoughtful fashion.
Kenya McQueen (Lathan) is all work and no play. She is a successful professional, but her workaholic demeanor leaves little room for a significant other. Her motor mouthed friends are constantly trying to find someone for her, all the while reminding her that 42.4% of African Americans have never been married. She winds up on a blind date with Brian Kelly (Baker), a landscaper who ditched the coat-and-tie lifestyle some years back. There is an attraction for him from the get go, but Kenya is initially resistant because he is white. Brian sees no problem with an interracial relationship, but Kenya’s family, namely her mother (Woodard), takes immediate issue with it. On top of that, Kenya has status expectations to live up to because of her family’s financial successes. Will the two overcome their racial dilemma and live happily ever after? It’s Valentine’s Day, folks!
The film could have easily fallen into far too familiar ruts, but its choice to be direct with its racial themes propels it past such mediocrity. The depiction of Kenya’s parents is what really gives the film some punch. They are beyond weary of Brian because they see no way he can provide what they feel is needed for Kenya, career-wise or by skin color. Screenwriter Kriss Turner walks a fine line and almost makes them over-the-top caricatures in some scenes, but in the big picture there is a realism that other films usually squeak around. For once there is actual racial tension, rather than the usual glossy portrayal that emanates from many other films. This accuracy is central to the film’s success.
Fortunately the themes override what is an otherwise shoddy directing job by Sanaa Hamri. The camera just can’t seem to stay still in most scenes, and this is not an effect that is needed for romantic comedies. Even more bizarre is the use of purposeful jump cuts. For what reason they are used I am not certain, but it is distracting and unnecessary. On the upside the film moves at a nice pace and avoids an overly drawn-out ending, which has plagued so many films of late.
Sanaa Lathan turns in a solid performance as the troubled Kenya. Her character is given more depth than the standard rom-com starlet, and she is consistently convincing. Simon Baker does his job, which is to stand around and look ruggedly handsome. His Brian is fairly one-note, but at least he’s not forced to flip-flop around as to whether or not he really wants Kenya or not. The supporting work by Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard, and Donald Faison is noteworthy, particularly Faison as Kenya’s brother, Nelson. He embodies the total prick that appears on the written page, with the running gag being that he has a new girl on his shoulder every time he appears on screen, all the while professing that his current choice is “the one.”
Something New is a pleasant surprise on the whole; it’s just what Valentine’s Day audiences will be in search for and it actual delivers a current and relevant take on interracial relationships. The film is smart and, given the current state of this tired and dumbed-down genre, that’s worth some extra bonus points right there.
Studio: Focus Features
Length: 100 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sexual references.
Theatrical Release: February 3, 2006
Directed by: Sanaa Hamri
Written by: Kriss Turner
Cast: Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard, Mike Epps, Donald Faison