My copy of Something New came with the following critical blurb on the front cover; “A romantic comedy that is both romantic and funny!” I want to have a few blurbs like that on DVD boxes. “An action adventure with both action and adventure” or “A horrific horror movie that is really horrible.” This stuff writes itself. Unfortunately, at least in the case of this movie, it’s not completely true. The movie is ok as a romance, but isn’t particularly funny.
Single professional Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) is doing pretty well for herself. She’s about to be made a partner at work, she just bought a new house, her friends are successful and good-looking, even her baby brother drives a jag. However, a quick look at her calendar on Valentine’s Day shows it is all work and no play for Kenya. There is no love in her life. Enter Brian (Simon Baker), a landscape architect and salt of the earth kind of guy. A co-worker sets up Kenya and Brian on a blind date which goes nowhere due a small fact that the co-worker forgot to mention: Brian is WHITE! Kenya is black, as are all her friends and all their friends, apparently. Brian picks up on Kenya’s prejudice right away; when she says she accepted her first blind date because she wanted to be more “open” he wryly responds, “but not this open.” Brian is fine with it, but Kenya is uncomfortable and runs out on the date as soon as possible.
Still, Kenya has a new house, with a backyard that looks like the former owners intentionally sprayed weed killer on every surface, so she hires Brain to install the backyard of her dreams. He does a great job, of course, and Kenya eventually falls for his laid-back charms. They begin dating, much to the shock and dismay of her family and friends. Muddying the waters is the appearance of Blair Underwood as her brother’s mentor. He’s appropriate to all of Kenya’s friends, because, well, he’s black. But does she feel the same magic with him as she does with Brian, and shouldn’t true love conquer all?
The movie follows a standard boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back rhythm, with the main roadblock to happiness being the race of the main characters. Call me naïve, but is this really that big of an issue in 2006? I know people are still racist, and I’m sure black-white couples are somewhat rare, but these people live in Los Angeles where mixed couples are not all that uncommon. Kenya’s family and friends act like Kenya has taken up with Charles Manson. I would think that high income professional blacks in Los Angeles would have some white friends and the less occasional spouse/significant other, but in this movie it’s treated not only as rare, but as a complete oddity; like Kenya’s friends can’t even believe it’s possible. What Brian’s friends think is not known. The reaction to this relationship is all on Kenya’s side. In fact near the end of the movie a white man shows up at a gathering and we think he might be Brian’s dad, but who knows? Brain isn’t burdened with a best friend, a sister, or even any thoughts or dialogue outside of his relationship with Kenya. We often see her without him, we never see him without her.
Lathan and Simon are appealing leads and do have some chemistry. They try to break out of the standard romantic comedy straightjacket to make their characters seem more real, and to a small extent, they succeed. The romance aspect is believable but their relationship and the bigger sociological agenda the filmmakers attach to their union gets a bit tiresome. Screenwriter Kriss Turner has set up a lot of “it’s hard out here for a black woman” dialogue, but doesn’t want to follow through in showing it being actually hard. She seems to think that just saying it makes it true, even though our eyes are telling us that Kenya has it pretty good. At one point, Kenya is complaining to Brian about the unfairness at work despite the fact that her older white boss is never anything but complementary and supportive of her work. Kenya is a wealthy woman from wealthy family, with a great job, supportive boss, nice home, good friends, and two hot guys chasing after her. Poor baby.
Also, despite the front cover blurb, the comedy aspect is sorely lacking. I just never laughed. Even Donald Faison from “Scrubs,” playing Kenya’s brother, Nelson, is wasted. Lathan and Simon do a nice job with the romance, but while both are good-natured and engaging, neither is a natural comedian. I had a hard time even telling where the jokes were supposed to be. I think a lot of the humor was intended to come from Kenya’s three friends who had a very “you go girl” vibe to them. But I could only see them being funny if you watch “The View” because you can’t get enough of Star Jones’ sassy attitude.
First time director Sanaa Hamri (this might be the only movie in the world where the director and star are both named Sanaa) does the best she can with the material, but the lack of humor in the script and the unrealistic dialogue are tough to overcome. Also, Hamri seems to be in love with unique “arty” shots as if to make this a something more than just a standard rom/com, which is what it is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really go with the script or performances and ends up feeling out of place, like shots designed for a totally different film. Producer Stephanie Allain was also behind last year’s excellent Hustle and Flow, this one, while not horrible, is not in the same league; in fact, it’s not even the same sport.
The disc is pretty basic, with nothing to recommend to even die-hard fans of the movie (if they exist). No commentary, no deleted scenes, no nothing, really. There is an unfunny segment called the "Do’s and Don’ts of Dating". Cast members give their “hilarious” (that’s the word used on the back cover) recommendations for what to do and not do while dating. They range from the obvious (pick up your date at the door), the bizarre (Blair Underwood’s suggestion that you don’t hold hands on the first date, drawing a “what?” from Donald Faison), and the mundane (Alfre Woodard proves to have no sense of humor by offering “be honest” and “be yourself.”) Everything is off the cuff and appears to have been tacked on at the end of some pre-movie publicity interviews. The cast does have some funny people, but they look unprepared and not really into it, so the whole thing doesn’t work.
There is also a 10 minute making-of featurette. It’s very standard and includes interviews with the producer, director and cast members interspersed with some scenes from the movie. It’s not like they have a lot of stunts or set shots so you don’t learn much watching the featurette.
In a desperate attempt to have something to put on the cover so people will buy the DVD, they also advertise a “special introduction” to the film by Blair Underwood. His introduction lasts about 15 seconds and includes the suggestion that we put our feet up, get some popcorn or perhaps a toothpick. Seriously. I guess if you think Blair is hot, you get to see him for 15 more seconds.