20 February 2006 | noralee
A Sweet Romance with Serious Look at Inter-Racial Intimacy
"Something New" is a charming chick flick crossed with the BUPpie (Black Urban Professional) genre, like "The Best Man" and "The Woodsman."
While those guy films featured Sanaa Lathan, she really gets to shine here, and her chemistry with the actresses playing her three girlfriends is wonderful. Unusual for a chick flick, the girlfriends all have believable, non-media jobs given their post-graduate degreed education and competence, including lawyer and pediatrician, and are at age-appropriate, mid-'30's points in their ambitious careers. I've never watched UPN-type sit coms like "Girlfriends" to know if the portrayal of their entertaining interchanges, amidst a whirling camera, is unusual, particularly about the woes of dating, but they do sound like a racially charged take on "Sex and the City". I think it is probably unusual that we get to see Lathan's "Kenya McQueen" substantively at work, dealing with subtle issues of racism and sexism (including much discussion of "the black tax"). We absolutely believe she is a workaholic who has just made her first big investment, in a bare house.
But key is that Lathan and Simon Baker are wonderful together and that the stops and starts, hots and cools of their relationship are believable. I find it amusing that non-TV watching movie critics refer much to his appearance in "L.A. Confidential" as that was barely a cameo, while he registered as a hunk in several seasons of "The Guardian" and a hero in "Land of the Dead". But this is the first we've seen him as all get out romantic and the camera loves his rugged, scruffy look, as he's an outdoorsy landscaper.
Their courting and post-coital scenes are wonderfully sweet, the best such sensual scenes since "Bull Durham". I particularly liked the intimate, in tight close-ups, curiosity of their inter-racial discussions (though we only learn about her Afro-centric academic family and not his ethnically neutral one), leading to him committing what Oprah says is the number one no-no: never ask an African-American woman about her hair. At least we learn about his business background and also got one interchange where he seemed like a normal guy and not just too and not just too world-music listening, community garden volunteering, etc. good to be true.
I was glad that her father finally had a speech about historic diversity, sounding like Henry Louis Gates in the PBS series "African-American Lives", because even though debut director Sanaa Hamri and scripter Kriss Turner developed this with Lathan in mind, according to her interviews, she seems as black as bi-racial Halle Berry (as opposed to her darker-skinned friends), as I wondered why her hair au natural wasn't even curlier.
The film goes way out of its way to be fair to African-American men, including a too long stand-up comic routine. It's not easy finding a reason for a woman not to hook up with Blair Underwood.
I'll have to trust that the representations of African-American cotillion culture, including snappy choreography, were correct, because the film was incorrect in having a wedding of, ironically, their mutual friend in a synagogue, as they are not used for such personal events. I hope it wasn't for the sake of a joke by ladies in scanty summer dresses about being in a rabbi's office.
The cinematography has harsh contrasts in the California sun, which Baker has said in interviews was due to the differences between skin color.