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Friday Film Review: Something New

Something New (2006)
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Grade: C+

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+

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

18 Comments

  1. BethanyA
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 09:13:25

    I am pleased you reviewed this film. It is actually one of my favorite comfort movies. If I am having a stay-in Friday, I will usually check this out from the library. It is super hot! I love, love, that the director chose not to have a soundtrack playing when they first kiss and first make love. The earth seems to have stopped. It adds to the poignancy of the moment.

    I disagree that the movie failed in bringing in Brian’s perspective. The movie is not about their relationship, it is about Kendra and her growth. It is a glimpse into a societal group that is not often featured and well-represented in romantic drama.

  2. Jessica
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 09:29:58

    I had never heard of this movie until I heard a paper on it at the Pop Culture Association conference. The author claimed — IIRC — that the movie, despite its flaws, was important because for black women, literary pleasure is usually identified with racial uplift. So love stories for black women are “supposed” to be interventions in oppressive ideologies. Something New presents and endorses a different kind of black female pleasure, not directly derived from political struggle, built on the assumption that black freedom has already been achieved.

    (I hope I got that right.)

    I loved that talk and it definitely influenced my viewing of the film, which I enjoyed, but didn’t love myself.

  3. Dani
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 09:38:38

    I agree with BethanyA. This film was mainly about Kenya and breaking down her personal prejudices. Brian’s perspective would have been nice, but I don’t think anything major would have been gained from it considering that Kenya was the character who needed the most growth. It was shown throughout the film that Brian’s world was open. He embraced other cultures and experiences, he knew how to relax and enjoy life, and it was his influence that taught Kenya to do the same.

    It’s not a perfect film, but I do enjoy watching it from time to time. I completely fell in love with Simon Baker. I roll my eyes during the girlfriend scenes, cringe during the comedy club scene, shake my head whenever Kenya’s brother pops up. I’m very appreciative that someone decided to give a glimpse into affluent African American society and that they were respectful of interracial relationships. Totally wiped the bad taste from Jungle Fever out of my mouth.

  4. Danielle
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 10:55:24

    This is a film that has grown on me with re-watching. Now I love it. Like other commenters, I saw Something New as Kenya’s story and loved the thoughtful exploration of her concerns and needs. The relationship is not only a matter of race but also of class, which contributes to the doubts of those around her. Kenya is smart, has a high-powered career, and loving friends and family: so what on earth does she have in common with “a plain gardener”? In this sense, too, it is the kind of contemporary romance we see so little of, where the woman is better off financially. I also like that it is the man who is more in tune with his emotions, instead of having to be “taught” this by the woman. Both are able to talk seriously with each other and have fun, too. These two are good apart but even better together, and that is a pleasure to watch.

  5. Isobel Carr
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 11:19:51

    This is the film that introduced me to Simon Baker. I have always found it charming, but being from a place where mixed race couples and people are EXTREMELY common, the “issue” of their being interracial seemed overblown/depressing. The bigger issue for me was that of class (she’s high power, white collar and he’s a dirt-under-the-nails blue collar guy), and it's largely ignored in favor of the racial division. You put Omar Epps in the rold Baker played and you still have a very large social problem for a AA woman from a wealthy family of doctors and lawyers.

  6. Isobel Carr
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 11:20:33

    role, not rold. I so wish I could type coheretly.

  7. Eva_Baby
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 12:06:44

    @Isobel Carr:
    I love this movie and totally agree with the class angle. For me, it resonates much more than the racial angle because some of Kenya’s struggle with finding the just the right mate does have to do with class.

    Her family is decidedly upper class, part of the black bourgeoisie who are as much sticklers for the “right types of people” as some old line white blue bloods. She and her friends talk about their rejection black working class men as well.

    Outside all that though, I think Sanaa and Simon have crazy romantic chemistry and for that alone the movie is lovely to watch. The last scenes with the wedding are definitely sweet.

  8. jo
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 15:27:00

    I’m also a fan of Something New. I would have given it a much higher rating, probably a B+. I can watch it anytime. Just a lovely romance.

  9. Little Red
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 15:39:56

    This movie is one of my favorites. It covers territory that is off the beaten path for a romantic comedy. First, there was an interracial couple at the heart of the story. Second, as others have also pointed out, there are differences of class between the two, though we find out that once upon a time ago, he also had a white-collar career as well that he left behind to do what he loved. Third, the two lead actors have seriously smoking hot chemistry together. Fourth, Sanna Lathan is gorgeous. And fifth, Simon Baker just charmed the socks off me and could have charmed off a few other articles of clothing as well. :)

  10. E.D. Walker
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 16:05:10

    I suspect there were scenes from Bryan’s perspective at one point that ended up on the cutting room floor. If you watch the wedding scene, John Ratzenberger (he of Cheers fame and all the Pixar movies) is playing Bryan’s dad. It seems really odd to me that a well known actor would just have a small, non-talking cameo so I think he probably had more scenes in the movie that got cut.

  11. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 16:29:49

    @Jessica: That’s what I remember about Dr. Francis’ talk, too. I love this movie and adored the talk about it. Can’t wait to see that paper published.

    I agree with most commenters here that this was Kenya’s movie, not Brian’s. But I would have liked a slightly more…emotional ending. But I’m a sucker for more romance. All in all, one of my comfort watches too.

  12. Isobel Carr
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 10:21:18

    I do have to say that it’s one of those films that if I stumble across it while flipping channels, I’ll settle in and watch it.

  13. L.A.D.
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 10:24:11

    I love this movie. I’ve been in two interracial relationships where I brought white men home. It was refreshing to see the side of the coin where black families can be as prejudiced as anyone else.

    I think it would be interesting if a movie was set up so that both the white and black family and friends have issues with the interracial relationship. It would highlight the fact that no matter what color someone is they have faults.

    Two everyday, working class people who happen to be a different race but are able to be a solid unit when confronted with prejudices from both sides. That’s a movie I would love to see.

  14. sula
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 18:15:30

    As one half of an interracial couple, I was delighted to see a romantic movie with this angle. Besides, Simon Baker and Sanaa Lathan are both uber-hot. I need to watch this one again…a visit to my netflix queue is in order.

  15. Susan/DC
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 18:58:44

    Definitely rated this higher than Jayne did. I actually enjoyed Kenya’s interactions with her friends and thought it was great that Brian liked her just as she was — it’s Mark who thinks she looks better with straightened hair while Brian likes it more natural. I liked that her family was upper middle class and normal; all too often the minority characters are sidekicks or need to be “rescued” by the white character, and that wasn’t the case here. And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve had a crush on Simon Baker since his days on TV in “The Guardian”.

  16. Jayne
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 05:43:21

    I’d like to thank everyone for their comments on the film. The next time I watch it, I’ll try and view it more as Kendra’s movie (though like L.A.D. I’d love to see a film that explores both dating from both sides).

  17. Jayne
    Feb 27, 2011 @ 06:09:30

    @Susan/DC:

    I actually enjoyed Kenya's interactions with her friends and thought it was great that Brian liked her just as she was -’ it's Mark who thinks she looks better with straightened hair while Brian likes it more natural.

    Watch Chris Rock’s DVD “Good Hair.” I honestly didn’t understand Kendra’s hair issues until after I’d seen this.

  18. Luce
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 17:41:58

    Put in another vote for “Something New” being Kenya’s story with just enough romance (and smoking HOT chemistry with Simon Baker) to make it one of my fave movies too.

    I’d given it a B+. It might not be perfect (it’s a little frothy and the end is tied up very neatly), but, to me, it’s a breath of fresh air. For all of its cookie-cutterness, vis a vis the romcom formula, it’s a movie I enjoy watching whenever I’m in the mood for comfort. :)

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