When dealing with romantic comedies of any kind, a title like Something New can seem misleading. No matter how much spice is thrown into the mix, at the end of the day we’re usually left with this formula: Boy meets girl, they hopelessly fall for each other, a huge fight erupts generally based on a misunderstanding, and boy and girl are happily reunited at the end. Audiences applaud and filmmakers get to add a few extra million dollars to their savings accounts. Everyone wins, even if nobody is enlightened.
Something New, the directorial feature debut by Sanaa Hamri, breaks no new ground with its familiar plot devices, but it offers flashes of intelligence and truth beneath the surface. Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) is a hard-working business woman with an impressive income, a brand new house and a great group of friends. What she doesn’t have is a man by her side, due in part to overly high standards and a busy work schedule. Unlike many movies that would portray Kenya as a gorgeous woman who somehow can’t get a date, in this case it is clearly her own choice to be single. Like 42.4% of black women who aren’t married, she just hasn’t found that IBM—ideal black man—to settle down with yet.
When she is set up on a blind date by her friends, she is surprised to see a white guy named Brian (Simon Baker) smiling and introducing himself to her. Overcome with discomfort about dating out of her race, she bids farewell and leaves skid marks as she abandons the coffee shop. But it won’t be long before they are reacquainted at a party where she learns he is a landscaper, and hires him to renovate her backyard. Brian is great with his hands, loves dogs, enjoys adventure, and looks perfect with his shaggy hair and finely sculpted biceps. Kenya doesn’t usually date white guys, but in this case, she can’t help but make an exception.
Once Kenya and Brian succumb to their passionate longings and start dating, they encounter a lot of opposition from her friends and family, who disapprove of her pale choice in suitors. Her womanizing brother Nelson (Donald Faison from “Scrubs”) strongly opposes the match, and tries to set her up with his Law School mentor Mark (Blair Underwood) instead. It is interesting to see the flip side of racism, where the white guy is put in a situation as the racial minority and the target of mindless jokes (“I see you brought your nightlight!” quips a comedian when spotting the couple). It shows that yes, prejudice can exist within any community. And no, it’s never pretty.
The acting and chemistry between the leads help to raise the movie beyond its standard groundwork. Sanaa Lathan, ever since her excellent performance as a tomboy coming of age in In Love and Basketball, proves she can carry a movie. Something New gives her center stage as a strong but frightened woman, where she is able to deliver a wide range of emotions. She has great chemistry with Simon Baker (star of TV’s “The Guardian”), who looks a lot like the hot Aussie twin of Scott Speedman. He effortlessly radiates charisma on screen, and it is easy to understand why she couldn’t resist his charms.
If you can look past the predictable formula of Something New, it’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Thanks to a savvy script by Kriss Turner, the characters all appear intelligent, even if they suffer from personal biases. There is enough development to keep anyone from simply being the racist or closed-minded one of the group. The story may not truly be something new, but as far as romantic comedies go, you could do a lot worse.