Something New (2006)
I really wanted to like this movie more than I ultimately did. Sanaa Lathan and Alfre Woodard are favorite actors and the plot promised more than the usual rom-com. But though the acting is good and it did make me think as it kept me entertained, ultimately it failed to deliver the bigger goods it promised.
Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) is an LA corporate accountant who’s wrapped tighter than a siege catapult. Her life is work, work, work to make partner, especially since she’s yet to find her IBM: Ideal Black Man. She and her three girlfriends lament the lack over martinis on Valentine’s Day, deciding to “let go, let flow” and loosen their requirements for dates. Kenya’s new decision gets tested immediately when a coworker sets her up on a blind date with Brian (Simon Baker) a landscape architect who also just happens to be white.
Brian is smitten from the start but Kenya takes some persuading to see him socially a second time, even after she hires his company to landscape her new house. Her family (Alfre Woodard and Earl Billings) and friends aren’t helping either as they alternately tease her and try to dissuade her from dating outside her race. But Brian has broken through the shell Kenya’s build around her heart and she refuses to give him up. That is until her attorney player brother Nelson (Donald Faison) hooks her up with Mark Harper (Blair Underwood) a fellow lawyer who is everything Kenya has always said she wants. Now, will she follow her heart or her head?
Most of the movie is shown from Kenya’s POV and centers on how the people in her life see her relationship with Brian. He’s charming, he’s intelligent, he ought to give lessons in seduction and love and he’s great at painting Kenya’s toenails plus getting her to loosen up. But I never got the feeling I really got to know his character. And the film never shows how the people in his life see his relationship with Kenya. I guess it would have made the film too long but it still left me feeling slightly cheated of seeing both sides of the race dating issue.
On the other hand, the issues facing Kenya are explored. Her family is, well not appalled, but not that supportive of her dating Brian. Her friends urge her to enjoy the sex but also obviously see Brian as merely filler while Kenya waits for that perfect man they can all approve of. I wish her girlfriends, funny though their scenes were, had been more than sketches of characters. And I was really disappointed with Alfre Woodward’s character who comes off as little more than a name dropping, social snob. Billings, as Kenya’s father, has some of the best lines in the film though: “The point is, love is an adventure, Kenya. It’s not a decision you make for others. It’s a decision you make from your heart. Anyway, the boy’s just white, he ain’t a martian.”
I also liked the inclusion of Kenya’s work life in the story. She tells Brian about the unwritten “Black Tax” that demands that she must work twice as hard to be thought as good as any white colleague. This also provides a powerful draw to Mark since, as a black professional, he will understand her struggles without her having to explain. And though the character of Mark is fairly bland, he does highlight the easy social/family path Kenya would tread should she choose him vs the uphill struggle for acceptance a relationship with Brian will be.
I like the fact that this movie is willing to address some of the racial dating issues of today – and isn’t it about time? – and do it in a non-confrontational manner that might just get people to watch it. I think people are more likely to see something they might consider controversial if they don’t think they’ll be preached at. More importantly seeing it might get people to think about the fact that if you’re lucky enough to find your someone, it shouldn’t have to matter what race you are or s/he is. I just wish that the issue had been shown from both sides and that some of the characters had been more than mere caricatures. C+