Man, that's a Romantic Comedy I can tip my hat to!
While all this is true, I was surprised to note that in spite of the dearth of undead cyborg alien hunters, Something New is a fantastic film. It's less a Romantic Comedy than a Dramatic Romance with enough funny elements to keep us all entertained. It's also got a rather ungainly premise, especially for 2006. Surprisingly this came from first time feature director Sanaa Hamri (another "Sanaa"?) and Sitcom writer Kriss Turner... and it simply works. What could have been a heavy handed, plodding film that puts way too much weight on the "MESSAGE" it wants to convey, Something New instead balances comedy and drama well with a conflicted, yet canny romance. In short... it's just a damned good movie.
Successful Los Angeles Corporate Lawyer Kenya McQueen (Lathan) is wallowing in her loneliness with her three closest friends, Wendy Raquel Robinson's Cheryl, Taraji P. Henson's Nedra and Golden Brooks' way hot Suzette, all of whom are well educated, professionals none too keen on being part of "the 42.4 Percent". That is, the 42.4 percent of African American women who aren't getting married. Kenya is ready to date just about any man she can find... that is any man who fits her very strict list of needs and wants, so specialized it's almost believable that someone as beautiful as Sanaa Lathan might be single! He's got to be well educated, he's got to be smart, he's got to be kind, he's got to be fine and, of course, at the top of the list in every case, the man she's looking for has to be black.
That's why when her friend Leah (Katharine Towne) sets her up on a blind date with the smart, kind, fine, well educated, but unfortunately "White" Brian Kelly (Baker), she's positive this must be a joke. But hey, she's got everything else going for her, right? She's got two professional parents, mom Woodard and pop Earl Billings, a cool, player brother in the form of Scrubs' Donald Faison, great friends, a new house (that's just in need of a little landscaping) and to top it all off, she's up for Partner at her Firm.
Except she's still alone.
It's interesting that the series of events that leads Brian to become Kenya's landscaper doesn't feel contrived, nor does it feel like a "fairy tale for grown-ups". Instead, writer Turner and director Hamri bring us a paced seduction from the excellent Simon Baker as he slowly woos Lathan's well-played character into a credible romance. Never does Brian Kelly come off as a predator (after all, we know how Lathan handles Predators), nor does Kenya McQueen seem to be a needy pushover. It takes time, and the payoff is great (and it doesn't all happen just because "he's the gardener!").
However, much of what makes Kenya hesitant is the pressure from her family and, thus, her upbringing. Brian is ready to shout love at the world, but Kenya is much more ready to take things as slowly as possible. And things don't get much easier from there, especially as the circle of friends, the pressures of family and the shadows of evolving, yet still stringent social mores close in on both of them.
And, of course, the appearance of Faison's legal Mentor, the well-educated, fine, kind and most definitely black Mark Harper (the always good Blair Underwood) doesn't help matters a whole heap either. The problem is, together or apart, these two kids love each other and it's tragic to slowly make out those invisible road blocks that come between them.
Most Romantic Comedies (even the dramatic ones) can be predicted with Nostradamus accuracy, and to a great extent that is the case with Something New. However, there is a whole lot in this film that is completely off the beaten path of this genre. Yes, there are story elements that manage to surprise, but the overall handling of the picture is really something to see. For one thing, the actors are universally excellent. I would say that it's impossible for Simon Baker to suck in anything, but he's such a good actor, I guess he could pull even that off. Lathan almost matches him, acting as well with dialogue as in silence. It's hard not to feel for her, even when she's at her coldest. The supporting cast holds up greatly, doing well with the comedy and the drama (Mike Epps, who plays Cheryl's love interest, is a great example of this). If you look closely enough you'll even catch a cameo by John Ratzenberger.
Hamri does a fine job with controlling mood with lighting and keeping a wise eye on color (no, I'm not trying to be "cute" with that line). It's impressive how varied, yet cohesive the look of this film is. Unfortunately, some very disconcerting cuts (sometimes in a contiguous scene with an almost staccato skipping) can be distracting. It seems almost as if it's an attempt at an artistic attention grab, but it didn't work for me, sadly. Turner's intelligent building and twisting of a great story is admirable, and her flair with dialogue is something to hear. She (along with the fine thespians) makes a heavy subject engrossing and a tension and conflict wrought romance feel believable. But this works best on that main subject. Surrounding the fringes of the plot are some loose ends and disjointed connections.
One thing I kept hoping for that never came (besides nudity... I was hoping for "Something Nude") was the potentially amazing scene that brought all the varied themes together from the cast's other films. I pictured the Cotillion sequence a little different. Like, for example, Zombies surround the ballroom and stagger toward our leads. Baker gets his groove on with some Dead Reckoning missiles, but just as Lathan is about to help him, some Aliens and Predators burst through the opposing wall, and she's got to spring into Hot Heroine action! Meanwhile several Borg beam in, injecting the partygoers with nanoprobes, so Woodard stands up and screams "CAPTAIN AHAB HAS TO GO HUNT HIS WHALE" and goes all ballistic with Billings (who played an Admiral on Star Trek: The Next Generation) at her side. Then just when Baker needs help the most, Epps (who was in Resident Evil: Apocalypse) dives in and finishes off a nasty ghoul at the last second! Finally, the remaining Borg could be wiped up by Brooks' Phaser (she was a semi-regular on Star Trek: Enterprise). If anybody needed medical attention, ol' Faison's tenure on Scrubs would come in mighty handy, assuming he wasn't assimilated, made into a trophy skull or subjected to the septic bite of an undead Zombie.
Actually, now that I think about it, that might break the film up a little too much and could distract from the fine Romantic, Dramatic, Comical theme they had going on. Yeah... better this way. Better like this, yeah. For a Romantic Comedy that is short on the slapstick, heavy in the good acting and wise in the writing and directing (not to mention, classy in the Drama), Something New is more than worth its weight in black and white... and more than worth Four Stars out of Five! Man, I'm wanting to give these guys that extra half-a-star so bad... but if Something New has taught me anything, it's that no outside force (like a goofy critic) could ever harm what's strong inside. Kind of like the Tootsie Roll Center of a Tootsie Pop! Okay, I'm tired, clearly. Alright, folks, you sleep well, say no to Racism, love your lady or gent and question any boundary that keeps true love at bay. Meanwhile, I'll be seeing your gray ass in the next Zombie Fighting, Alien and Predator Spanking, Borg Shoving and Prejudice Defying reel. Kiss me.
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