Something New
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Something New

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One thing that has always been true of the art form known as cinema; it reflects the sensibilities of the general public. Relationships between people of different ethnic groups have changed drastically since the groundbreaking film form 1969, "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner" or the inflammatory "Jungle Fever". Back then, a romantic relationship between an African-American man and a white woman was a major issue. Groups protested the film, it was discussed on news shows and there was not a cocktail party where the film was not talked about. Now, some thirty seven years later, interracial romance is once again brought to the screen. In ‘Something New’ a successful black woman, Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) is pretty much the poster girl for workaholics. Her position as a corporate lawyer in a in a large firm consumes her life. From the pressure her parents placed upon Kenya to graduating at the top of notable schools, she has always worked hard to achieve her goals and is about to make partner in the accounting firm where she works. While this is a laudable attribute it did come at a cost. Kenya is as reserved in her personal life as she is dynamic at work. One goal for Kenya has been to purchase her own home and when she finally gets ready to move into her dream house she meets a landscape architect, Brian Kelly (Simon Baker), who is talented, handsome and white. As things progress to in romantic comedies Kenya is set up with a blind date with Brian. After a few uneasy moments Kenya excuses herself, as a matter or personal preference she does not date white men. The rule does seem a bit moot since she does not really date black men either. She does, however, winds up hiring him to work on her property. Kenya’s best girlfriends, Cheryl (Wendy Raquel Robinson) and Nedra (Taraji P. Henson) alter Kenya’s romantic perspectives when they show her a recent article that states that 42.2% of college educated, professional black women never marry. This plants the seeds of doubt in Kenya. She wants to have a husband and family but it looks as it the statistics are against her. As Brian makes Kenya’s garden blossom they pair begin to fall in love. Naturally, part of the written in stone format of the genre the couple has to run into a rough patch and after an argument they break up. Kenya defaults to returning to what she feels would work better, her IBM, ideal black man. She hopes that he can be found in the person of Mark (Blair Underwood), an upscale and equally successful black man. While Mark may appear to be perfect by all reasonable criteria he lacks something for Kenya, something that she seems to have loss with Brian.

This film is a ‘kinder, gentler’ one that the others cited above. It also says a lot about the changes over the last few decades in how interracial romance is perceived. For one thing, a black woman dating a white man is not depicted as a social experiment or act of rebellion. It is simply a career woman that is beset by her desire to share her life with a man who loves her as much as see loves him. It is a story that uses race as a stage not the true emotional center of the piece. There is also a switch in the typical Hollywood roles. Here, the black family is successful. Kenya’s father (Earl Billings) is a department head at Cedars-Sinai Hospital while her mother (Alfre Woodard) is social leader who had to make sure her daughter was properly presented to society in a formal affair. The fact that Brian is a working class man, one who literally gets his hands dirty in his job, makes him double unacceptable to many in Kenya’s social sphere. Still, he gains acceptance from her parents in a move away from the easy prejudicial story this film aptly avoids.

What makes or breaks a romantic comedy is the cast, more specifically if the leads can generate the proper chemistry. Fortunately, both lead actors are capable and believable in their roles. Sanaa Lathan may be better known for more action intensive roles such as her leading appearance in Alien versus Predator. Lathan brings that strength to her role here as Kenya. She presents a young woman who is simultaneously driven and trapped by her abilities. What made her a success in business are the very personal qualities that preclude any romance. The general story arc here always Ms. Lathan to show personal growth with her character. Male lead Simon Baker also has a resume that contains a little more action oriented roles such as Ring Two and the latest remake of Land of the Dead. In this film he gets to explore a different side of his craft, one that requires more of an emotional connection with the audience. A romantic comedy typically has to depend on more than just the leads to work and this one is no different. Alfre Woodard is a versatile actress that makes her role better than the screen time would suggest. She can balance a somewhat pompous social butterfly with a loving mother to perfection.

This is the freshmen feature film effort of director Sanaa Hamri and she does a very good job. She paces the film well but there is a feeling that editing is a little uneven as if some scenes are missing. The major affect of this is it gives the audience a feeling that the character arcs come about too rapidly. Hamri does have an eye for setting a scene and that does a lot to carry the film. The overall mood of the film is light with just the correct amount of personal drama added. Race is used to drive much of the plot but it never comes across as heavy handed.

Universal has paid attention to the technical details in presenting this film on DVD. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is crisp, clear with a very good color balance. The contrast is sharp and realistic. The Dolby 5.1 audio pretty much ignores the rear speakers except for a little ambience. The channel separation with the front speakers is well done and follows the action. The extras are a bit light. There is an introduction to the film by Blair Underwood as well as a little dating tips selection. Rounding it out is the precursory making of featurette. Sure, this is light entertainment and there is nothing at all wrong with that. It is a gentle film that the whole family can enjoy.

Posted 5/10/06

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