Saturday, February 04, 2006
Cream in her coffee
The title of the movie could've stood a few recycling in subsequent marketing meetings before being settled on as the final choice. It's too banal, too blah. Too much like an ad slogan for dishwashing liquid (Something New and Improved!). It's one of those lackluster tags that floats off the marquee, onto the projectile and soon out of sight, out of mind. But judging a book by its cover would be a mistake in the case of this appealing romantic comedy from first-time director Sanaa Hamri. What it lacks in catchiness, it more than makes up for in charisma and topical commentary without weighing itself down in spite of it.
So if February is the time when celebrating romance and Black culture takes center stage, then Something New delivers a richly seductive two for the price of one.
The ever-luminous Sanaa Lathan headlines as Kenya Denise McQueen, a Los Angeles accountant who is a workaholic. She's beautiful and whip smart in the workplace as the consummate BAP, but absolutely clueless on how the game of love is played. After being rescued from trash like Alien vs. Predator which is far beneath the scope of her considerable talent, Lathan rises to the task to make Kenya wary, insecure... cautious, but proud. It's a performance that could've devolved into ice-queen caricature territory (á la Gabrielle Union's turn in Deliver Us From Eva) but she goes deeper to paint a multifaceted portrait. Fiercely driven as the only daughter of esteemed parents, a graduate of top schools (Stanford, check. Wharton Business, check.), and now up for partner in her firm. Kenya doesn't date. She doesn't do much of anything except work, although recently she purchased a new house. She makes lists, as in, what needs to be done, what she doesn't "do" (sushi, kayaking, creepy, crawly things, dogs, the color red), and what she wants in her IBM (Ideal Black Male): he'll be taller than her, educated, and professional. Kenya doesn't think she's asking for much — just perfection.
She has her dream man shopping cart down to a science. And yet, she's light years away from inching nearer to the brass (or better yet, wedding) ring so coveted. As she and her similarly equipped, ambitious, and disappointed sistah girls — Cheryl (Wendy Raquel Robinson), Suzzette (Golden Brooks), and Nedra (Taraji P. Henson) — trade laughs over a round of cosmopolitans, the infamous statistic that looms over would-be spinsters: 42.4% of black women have never been married, owing to a shortage of acceptable partners. They look round the restaurant and see one much publicized reason for the imbalance — a Black man with a White woman. (Insert the obligatory eye roll here). Kenya's friends have horror tales to share, and her inability to put herself out there is becoming cause for concern. The friends agree that on the Valentine's edition of their pity party ritual to follow the advice of a self-help guru whose catchphrase to life is "let go, let flow," although the idea of the uptight Kenya even opening a top button is laughable.
A co-worker sets up Kenya on a blind date and she regrets it immediately, especially when she sees that Brian (Simon Baker) is white. Making her way to their table at Magic Johnson Starbucks in Ladera Heights, she scrambles to renew her ghetto pass membership with over-the-top affirmations of her blackness ("How you doin' brother?" she asks a startled employee, before noting a customer's hair: "Girl, you are wearing those dreads!"). Her need to overcompensate is blunt enough that her date observes, "You're making sure everyone knows you're down." When Brian wonders why she even bothered to come in the first place, she tells him, "I promised my girlfriends I'd be more open." Again, he cuts to the chase: "But not this open."
And her rudeness to Brian almost borders to the point of cruelty. But as fate and the story arc would have it, their paths are meant to cross again: recently completing the buppie circle of homeowners in Baldwin Hills, her overgrown backyard is in dire need of renovation. So, wouldn't ya know it, Brian is a landscape architect and because he's the most good-natured, well-balanced, easygoing type of White guy around, he accepts the challenge. Before you can say Miracle-Gro, a bit more than her yard begins to blossom.
But in her need to always wear race on her sleeve, an interracial relationship is out of the question, let alone with someone who has dirt under his nails. Her impulses keep her on a tightrope of exhilaration and self-loathing, even though finding a man willing to sidestep her multitude of hangups and indulge fantasies of painting toes neatly while blowing them dry. The set-up is a deliciously satirized poke at all those fetishes about the well-to-do fair maiden getting serviced in more ways than one from the Black hired help. But thankfully the story itself doesn't shy away from the subtle, everyday racism that made Kenya so tentative and self-protective in the first place.
It's a trip to watch her go completely against her grain — which includes kissing her weave goodbye to get in touch with her roots so to speak (pardon the pun), and of course, she wouldn't be doing this if she weren't falling in love (which she also thinks she shouldn't be doing).
They're blissfully happy behind closed doors, but what happens when those starry-eyed feelings are tested in the real world? Kenya & Brian have their first fight in a neighborhood grocery store that's real in which Hollywood never allows romantic comedies to stretch. There's cutting and honest exchanges about race — not the Rainbow Coalition soapbox we've been spoon fed ad nauseum about how we're all really the same underneath it all. Acknowledgment of the "black tax" for someone like Kenya to work harder than her white colleagues would never appear in slapstick retreads like last year's moronic Guess Who.
While being stuck as the go-to Caucasian, Baker is unbearably charismatic in channeling Matthew McConaughey-lite with a brain, which probably isn't easy to do when your role is basically written as "sensitive stud toy." As Lathan's brother, Donald Faison has some funny bits with a revolving door of dates to suit each day of the week and Taraji P. Henson struck just the right note with well-timed zings of sass.
Something New is something rare: arguably the first major picture with a triple threat of backing behind the scenes from Black women (director Hamri, producer Stephanie Allain and screenwriter Kriss Turner) that offers glimpses of a world we almost never see onscreen. The life of brown folk who also happen to be upwardly mobile. An interracial romance that manages to address serious concerns in a manner that's good-natured, intelligent and humorous without painting Black men in a negative light to justify it is almost a revelation. A rom-com in which Mike Epps of all people utters the single truest line of the whole damn screening, "It's not about color, it's about the love between a man and a woman." And that in itself is something to talk about.
Labels: movie review
- Berry commented at 2/15/2006 01:12:00 AM~
Great review! I haven't heard a bad one yet so I will catch this as soon as it comes on DVD unless I catch a matinee.
- Will commented at 2/15/2006 08:01:00 AM~
Great, great review! In fact, the review alone gets three and a half stars. :)
*ahem* I'ma need you to update more often. Stop doing these things retroactively. LOL
Kidding ... do your thang! And let's do lunch before you leave!!!
- TriniPrincess commented at 2/15/2006 05:08:00 PM~
*takes a curtsy*
Don't wait for the video, go see it! Believe me, it's well worth the price of admission and I don't recommend current movies like that since most of them by and large - suck balls. But I really liked SN, so much I saw it twice. I think you'd enjoy it.
Will, Will, Will,
What am I going to do with you? LOL....I'm almost done clearing out the backlog, so soon the entry dates will actually match up with the calendar. And I'm not leaving....at least not for a while, so fret not. We've had the longest pending lunch date in history. ;-)
- southern_fried_kitty commented at 3/09/2006 06:52:00 PM~
So What?!?! I'm late and shit but I happened to catch the "Jungle Fever" episode of Oprah yesterday and while I'm all about mixing races (for the hair of the babies' sake), I didn't really "get" the whole EXCITEDEDEDNESS of it all. One reason I may not be all "into" it is because I can never co-sign the idea that there aren't any decent black men in the world and if a professional black woman wants some lovin in her life, she needs to holla atUncle Kracker (I swear that made me laugh). And if I dated someone outside of my race, I'd want to do it because I find him attractive and not because I'm in dire need of a man and all of the good black men are taken (via jail, other men, cooties, baby mamas or the unemployment office). I just think it's a bad start to a relationship when you're into it only because you're settling. Isn't settling why "we're" in this fucked up situation to begin with? Anyway, your review was pretty long so I stopped reading it but I looked at your playlist and smiled!
- southern_fried_kitty commented at 3/09/2006 06:53:00 PM~
So why did it take me SIIIIIIX tries to post that? Why in the hell would they use VWVWVWVW as a long in code when they're using fancy font and UGH!
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