By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
Rated: PG-13 (for sexual references)
Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Donald Faison, Alfre Woodard; Directed by: Sanaa Hamri
Release Date: Feb. 3
Despite their predictability and happy endings that are dangerous to our mental and emotional well-being, we can’t help but be drawn to romantic movies.
Sure, romantic comedies are great for escapism, but no matter how many times TBS reruns “Sleepless in Seattle,” the likelihood of someone having a cross-country connection with his or her own Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan, only to meet on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day, is slim.
While “Something New” doesn’t have as grand a finale or a what-are-the-odds plot like “Seattle,” the film does paint a fresh face on a threadbare genre and manages to approach racial issues with integrity and believability.
We begin with Kenya McQueen (Lathan), the epitome of a single, A-type workaholic who wears suits on the weekend and focuses on climbing the corporate accounting ladder. The color pallet of her newly purchased Los Angeles house consists of white, beige and tan, and she can easily recite a list of qualities she’s looking for in the perfect man.
Seeing Kenya as cry for help, one of her engaged coworkers sets her up on a blind date in hopes of initiating Kenya with a life outside of work. While standing awkwardly at her local Starbucks the next weekend, her blind date, Brian, approaches from behind and asks if she’s waiting for him. Upon seeing her date, she’s taken aback and probably considers bolting, but eventually agrees to sit down and talk, but not for long.
Is he unattractive? Hardly; he’s gorgeous. Kenya’s problem? Brian is white, and she is black. Brian seems open to the idea of inter-racial dating, but Kenya’s planned out life only involves finding her IBM – Ideal Black Man. After a rude departure, the two split ways.
Not too long after the disastrous blind date, Kenya and Brian run into each other at Kenya’s coworker’s engagement party at her parent’s house. Kenya compliments her friend’s mother on the beautiful landscaping, and she insists she meet her architect, Brian. Though he’s not pleased to see her, he agrees to look at Kenya’s disheveled backyard and then to work for her.
Brian used to be a suit, working long hours at an ad agency, but found his life unfulfilled. As a child, Brian had been interested in botany and architecture. He decided to make the switch to owning his own landscaping business when he realized he spent more time caring for the plants in his office than on any of his accounts. He hikes, has a dog, drives a loud truck and doesn’t mind dirt.
As Kenya’s new backyard begins to blossom, with Brian adding new flowers and fountains, so too does Kenya’s personality. Color creeps into her wardrobe and home decor as she lets her guard down and welcomes Brian and his relaxed nature into her life.
The answer to Kenya’s cry for help, the two begin a romance that forces each to reconsider their preconceived notions of what their ideal relationship and partner is, as well as confront their individual prejudices against each other’s race. While Brian being the only white person at black gatherings is at times played for laughs, a serious, underlying tension runs throughout the film that forces the viewer to evaluate his ideas along with the characters.
Additional insight comes from viewing Kenya’s wealthy family and friends, all of whom have climbed to the top of their respective fields. Alfre Woodard is wonderful as Kenya’s mother who only wants the best for her daughter but, in turn, has to consider whether her ideal vision for Kenya is what she really needs.
A Focus Features production and directed by Sanaa Hamri, “Something New” has more edge, style and believability than most recent romantic comedies and in truth disproves what most in the genre make you fall for: you don’t need to fly to the Empire State Building to find your “true” love. By moving past the silly notions of love and embracing life’s possibilities, you needn’t look further than your own backyard.