Thursday, February 2, 2006
In the past, films about interracial love have been few and far between. Last year’s update on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner did a reversal on Stanley Kramer’s 1967 original so that a young black woman brought her white fiancé home for some cross-cultural immersion. In Something New, neophyte director Sanaa Hamri and first-timer screenwriter Kriss Turner grapple with an interracial love affair in formulaic terms that undermine their heartfelt attempt at voicing opinions and problems associated with dating outside of one’s race.
Senior accounting executive Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) is in danger of being a permanent bachelorette due to her rigorous work schedule and her long list of prerequisites for the man of her dreams. Not only is Kenya uptight beyond belief, but also she’s so insecure about representing her imagined image of an African-American woman that she performs social backflips when her blind date Brian Kelly (Simon Baker) turns out to be white. In one of the film’s funniest and most revealing scenes, Kenya self-consciously begins to sabotage the date by ingratiating herself to black patrons in the café. She brings up Michael Jordan to a busboy and compliments a woman on the way she wears her dreadlocks. Brian is quick to diffuse Kenya’s self-destruct mode by calling her on her embarrassing attempt to apologize for his presence and prove that she’s “down” with her peeps. But by now the damage is done and Kenya begs off of the date to Brian’s ironic dismay.
One of the film’s biggest stumbling blocks is the dynamic set up between Kenya and Brian. Even by her friends’ standards Kenya is a piece of work. She allows her insecurities to prop up the chip she carries on her shoulder even with a bigoted white client at the firm where she is about to be made partner. A chance social function brings Brian to Kenya’s attention yet again, this time as a talented landscape architect. The two begin a business relationship wherein Brian rejuvenates the overgrown backyard of Kenya’s new house into a lavish garden. During this dubious courtship, Kenya rudely states her superior financial status to Brian over glasses of wine. The insult is just one of many that Brian suffers in the course of wooing a woman who berates him.
For all of Brian’s steely good looks and saintly behavior, his character is a cardboard punching bag to absorb Kenya’s agenda issues like the “black tax” that she describes as the double amount of work that black people have to perform to prove that they are equal to whites. Brian agreeably catches the grenades of social injustice that Kenya consistently lobs but he’s too mealy mouthed to enter into the discussion with both feet. Brian’s character is never afforded a background of friends or family in the film, so we can’t get a bearing on his social or political convictions, much less how he might have earned them. We only see Brian’s temper flare up once at Kenya when the two are shopping at a grocery store and she is publicly making an embarrassing example of his refusal to take on her day’s ration of racial stress.
Something New is a tentative baby step toward a hopefully
improving cinematic dialogue about the fact of interracial
relations and their acceptance in our society. For a film so
intent on spelling out the alphabet of love as complicated by
racial differences Something New barely pronounces its
second vowel before screeching into an ending that clearly
spells doom for both parties.
SOMETHING NEW ( * * )
Directed by Sanaa Hamri. • Starring Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker and Mike Epps. • (PG-13, 99 min.) • At Lighthouse Cinemas, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.