Something New is indeed "something new," a genuine romantic comedy with a sharp script and some laugh-out-loud moments mixed with some genuine pathos and sadness. The path to true love is fraught with inconvenience and obstacles; at least one would think so when watching Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan).
Kenya is on the fast track to making partner - but only at her law firm. Her personal life sucks. Where are all the eligible black men? She and her similarly high-achieving girlfriends chalk up their track record to the miserable statistics on the marriage prospects of professional African-American women. Apparently, only 42.4% of them ever marry.
But Kenya's real problem is that she has impossibly high standards, and she has a list of what she does and doesn't do, a mental index of uncomely attributes - bad teeth, poor education, kids, previously married. She seems to be convinced that she has to land an IBM: Ideal Black Man.
Kenya is also insufferably uptight, she wears a full work outfit on Saturdays, and complains to her friends about the "black tax," the idea that blacks have to work twice as hard to achieve the same accolades as their white peers. And just like the garden in the back of her newly purchased house, Kenya is just as dry and emotionally barren.
The man of her dreams arrives in the form of hunky blond haired and blue eyed Brian (terrific Tasmanian actor Simon Baker). They meet on a blind date, but because Kenya can't think outside the box and would never dream of dating a white guy, she tells him she's not interested. Coincidently, she meets him again and hires him to landscape her garden.
The more Brian wrestles manfully with a hoe, biceps bulging, the hotter Kenya gets under her starchy, buttoned-up collar. "You need me," Brian says when he first sees Kenya's pathetic garden, clearly meaning to make this stunning but chilly woman blossom along with the seedlings.
Obvious problems arise with the race card - not so much from Kenya's family and friends - but from her own views and insecurities over dating a white guy. Brian sees women as women, and looks beyond the skin colour, he's also remarkably laid back, almost spiritual in his outlook, and he sees Kenya as "a piece of work," she's absolutely gorgeous but seems damaged by her life experiences.
The two leads are enormously appealing and have obvious screen chemistry - Baker - an actor of formidable talents - is suitably earthy and sexy as Brian, whilst Lathan is absolutely gorgeous as Kenya. The film is also smart enough to address the economic gap between the two principals, which is considerable; and there's a class barrier as well as a racial one. And in a kind of reverse racism, Kenya's brother and his friends rib Brian for being white every chance they get.
This is a lovely, elegant and beautifully acted movie, the humor coming from the characters themselves as they grapple with their perceived limitations of living in the modern world. The movie also doesn't shy away from the subtle, everyday racism that has made Kenya so guarded and distrustful in the first place.
Yet when all is dead and done, true love conquers all, the colour of one's skin is superfluous, and both Brian and Kenya realize they are meant to be together. Something New is very smart and very entertaining, and if at times it hedges on matters of stereotyping and ethnic tension while focusing on the steamy love affair, then all the better. Mike Leonard May 06.