Something New

Something New

**1/2

Reviewed by: Chris

Are you young, successful and single? Kenya Denise McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) is an intelligent, high-powered executive with not enough time for a personal life. She also happens to be black. Brian Kelly is a successful landscape architect - and happens to be white. The Californian romantic comedy that develops explores issues of race and the dilemmas of a growing number of single professional people.

Something New has an ambitious agenda: a love story that is intellectually challenging, and a wake-up call about race issues too often ignored. Kenya is roused on Valentine's Day, a beautiful white wedding dream shattered by her morning alarm. Laptop schedules, power walks to work, all crammed into an opening collage with slowly descending flowers, gear us to expect the unexpected.

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Dateless, Kenya (who doesn't like sushi, dogs, creepy-crawlies or the colour red) has a cocktail night out with the girls. They discuss how 42.4 per cent of black women are not married, and how that figure is top-heavy with professional achievers. Next day, on a blind date with the charming, successful and attractive Brian (recently reprieved from The Devil Wears Prada but without the smarm), she demonstrates her sad ability to find an eligible male unsuitable within seconds. Later, when they get together, he hits a thinly disguised wall of prejudice from her black friends and family, yet fails to realise the prejudice Kenya lives with every day in her job. Predictably, he eventually manages to surmount problems and introduces colour into Kenya's life in more ways than one.

The plot may sound familiar romcom territory, but the intellectual issues and a promising script with words of more than two syllables aim it slightly higher.

In many ways, the film is very timely. The success of phenomena such as speed-dating bears witness to the isolation felt by a growing class of professional singles. Kenya is neurotically efficient, but treats dating with the same mentality as her work (and with the result that I've observed in many of my friends). Brian is emotionally her opposite. In a telling close-up, we see him rubbing earth through his hands in her overgrown garden. It is as if he connects with the earth, whereas she only has a sanitised and distant relationship with it.

The other strand that is well illuminated is race. Films addressing US racial issues tend either to oversimplify or, as with films such as Crash, appeal mainly to art-house filmgoers. Something New successfully highlights genuine racial differences and problems while at the same time offering excellent black role models. We first sense Brian's discomfort at the barrage of polite but double-edged comments of disapproval about his relationship with Kenya. In the best scene of the film, she movingly reflects on her own predicament, pointing out that he is uncomfortable (only) when he's in a roomful of black people who remind him he is white: she, on the other hand, is in an equivalent position every day.

Something New has a great deal going for it, yet frustratingly falls down in crucial ways. Dialogue covering the controversial issues is good, but is left wanting in the less demanding area of romantic comedy. Sudden leaps of faith that Kenya makes to go out with Brian, or the similar crossing of racial divides, are inadequately scripted. The film falls uneasily between second-rate mindless romance and more cerebral drama. It excels in asking questions but can't offer convincing answers. Analysis of metaphors such as 'black tax', or failings of a check-list approach to dating, are not resolved with trite cliches about following your heart and all being the same under the skin. The audience has no consistent frame of reference and ceases to care. Are we going to have a nice, silly girlie movie or not? Are we getting internally consistent arguments about the issues or not? The acting is fairly pedestrian and the promise shown by imaginative cinematography in the opening scenes is not carried through the rest of the film.

Something New attempts more than it can deliver, however noble its intentions.

Reviewed on: 22 Nov 2006
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Something New packshot
A black woman and a white man meet on a blind date and try to make a go of things despite the disapproval of their friends.
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