Artist: Movie ReviewTitle: Something New (Film)Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Edwardo jackson
BIASES:30 year old black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors action,comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks, kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare
Despite a high powered job as a tax attorney and a new home in LA’s upscale black enclave of View Park, Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) has everything but a man. But she doesn’t want just any man, she wants her IBM, her Ideal Black Man. After a failed meet on a blind date, Kenya, whose whole life is a case study in anal-retentive repression, ends up catching feelings for her free-spirited landscape architect Brian Kelly (Simon Baker), a white guy. With her spoiled, Afrocentric mother (Alfre Woodard), callow, elitist brother Nelson (Donald Faison), and semi-approving but curious girlfriends (Taraji P. Henson, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and Golden Brooks) all weighing in, Kenya tries to reconcile what her life would be with who could be her Ideal Man versus the image, and the real life temptation of, her Ideal Black Man (in the form of a fellow taxlawyer (Blair Underwood)).
Although I am deliriously happy with the return to (luscious) form of Sanaa Lathan, Something New (Focus Features) marks the arrival of an equally talented director in Sanaa Hamri. Working from a Kriss Turner (TV’s “Everybody Hates Chris”) script that may be a little too on the nose at times, Hamri escorts us through this emotional and social minefield with visual artistry. Not only did she make me fall in love with Sanaa Lathan all over again, in all her Skippy-coated, butter brown glory, but also Hamri addresses the unspoken social taboo of interracial dating by playing up racial differences more with visual cues than cheesy dialogue. And for all you Los Angeles residents out there, Hamri covers all the local black haunts like Blackbucks, er, Magic Johnson’s Starbucks in Ladera Center, Magic’s TGIFriday’s, Leimert Park, etc. Reminding us that this is still a rookie feature director, Hamri isn’t immune to old romantic comedy movie tropes like “sexy” toenail painting (Bull Durham) and The Run (just about every rom-com ever made). Still, Hamri’s “Something New” is an impressive, hopeful debut of that Hollywood unicorn: the African female director.
The cast is thoroughly professional and, at the very least, committed to having a good time. Henson (Hustle & Flow) continues to enliven any role she’s in, large or small and Faison from TV’s “Scrubs” is slyly amusing as Kenya’s pro-black brother, dedicated to the bourgeois life and his endless parade of young, impressionable floozies. Green-eyed, blond-tressed Aussie charmer Simon Baker flashes a flawless American accent as the self-satisfied, dog-toting, naively appealing Brian. Through his unaffected confidence and guileless perseverance, Baker’s Brian is the perfect candidate to inject some variety into the garden of Kenya’s buttoned-down life.
In “Something New,” Sanaa is, as always, luminous, enchanting, and on point. At a time when some of our more venerable King Magazine pinups and Essence cover girls are going the way of “Disappearing Acts” (see the incredibly shrinking waistline of Union, Gabrielle), Sanaa’s still got more curves than a Thomas Guide. With acting chops to match, Sanaa plays Kenya believably, even understandably, as the beige-obsessed, dog-loathing, romantically ascetic individual she is. Once Baker’s Brian enters her sphere of influence, making her question all her pre-conceived, tightly held notions, Sanaa reliably plays the internal tensions with admirable aplomb. Their chemistry is fine, with a realistic, sweet pseudo-courtshipthat’s only semi-confrontational, but doesn’t ignore the proverbial Elephant int he Room (“That’s what being black is about,” a frustrated Kenya lectures Brian after he requests one night off from race talk, “youdon’t get a night off.”).
Will Sanaa Hamri’s visually lush “Something New” usher in a resurgence of buppie pics reminiscent of the late ’90s (“Two Can Play That Game,” “The Brothers,” etc.)? Only if they are as inspired as “The Best Man,” then let’s hope so.
Edwardo Jackson (ReelReviewz@aol.com) is an author and LA-based screenwriter, visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com