There really is nothing new in the romantic-comedy genre, but that doesn't stop filmmakers trying. Sanaa Hamri's debut feature Something New revamps a rote girl-meets-boy tale with a thoroughly modern female lead and a gimmick imported from a couple of decades ago.
Meet Kenya, a smart, successful African-American woman in her 30s. A little uptight, but attractive. Nice family and well connected in the black upper-middle class. But, girrrrrllll, she can't find a good brother! The film's bland title was formerly "42.4 Percent," which refers to a statistic quoted in the film -- the percentage of black women who have never been married, though for Buppies like Kenya it might be even higher.
The film doesn't demonize black men; it saves its gentle critique for Kenya, who is too picky and, at heart, too romantic: She wants a spark, as well as an MBA. Hence, she's rattled when she finds herself falling for Brian (Simon Baker) -- a free-spirited, cute nice guy who's her gardener (oops) and white (double oops). Can Kenya overcome her narrow expectations about romance, and can her friends and family stop freaking out that she's dating a white guy?
The explicit emphasis on skin color and the film's overly simple message -- it's who people are that matters -- makes this film feel dated, like a well-meaning TV movie from the 1970s. Regardless, I've sat through stupider romantic comedies, and Something at least shifts the burden of interracial dating away from society (this is Los Angeles 2005, after all) and onto Kenya's preconceived ideas of what's acceptable. Something also dances around but never explicitly confronts the deeper issue of class, and the narrow-mindedness within Kenya's insular black bourgeoisie world.
Something benefits from having women at the helm; director Hamri works from a script from Kriss Turner, and Sanaa Lathan brings a quiet confidence to Kenya. This isn't a chick flick full of shrill caricatures; neither is it a pity party (thank heavens, there are no scenes of weepy women eating ice cream) or an anti-men screed. And I appreciated the tweak on the genre's convention that most often finds the wealthy male dating the hottie female help. You go, girl.
Brian and Kenya are likable, and they have a believable chemistry; in fact, the whole film is full of decent people who just need to break out of their boxes a bit. You'll have to bite on plenty of rom-com clichés (women who blossom overnight, obtuse family members, and a mad dash in the last reel), but such predictable pleasures sustain fans of the genre. If that's you, then don't sweat the silly black-white premise. Just enjoy the ride to the altar.