Something New (2006) (sort of a movie review)

18 Mar
Poster for Something New (2006); Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker in profile at the top and bottom of the poster, with her looking sideways to the viewer. The rest of the cast appears as screencaptures from the movie, in a line in the middle of the poster.

SOMETHING NEW was the March selection for #RomancelandiaMovieNight, and I’m very glad I chose it. This is very much a heroine-centric genre romance that touches on some difficult questions about race, racism, and parental and social expectations.

Please note that the sexytimes, while not full nudity, are quite enough to steam your glasses–the leads have chemistry to burn. And, well. They do.

Warning: there’s one burka joke, which. Really? Also, if you have spiders/spiderwebs issues, there’s one short scene (less than a minute–21min to 22 min marks), you may want to skip.

Here’s the blurb:

Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) thought she had it all: a successful career, good friends and family. There was just one thing she didn’t have under control: her love life. All that changes when she meets sexy, free-spirited Brian Kelly (Simon Baker). But when her ideal man (Blair Underwood) arrives on the scene, Kenya must decide between the relationship everyone expects and the romance no one expected.

The movie, set in present day South Los Angeles, opens on Valentine’s Day, which, for Kenya, quickly becomes Galentine’s night out with her three closest friends, Cheryl, Nedra and Suzette. All four women are professionals (CPA, judge, pediatrician, banker), all single, all wondering where all the good brothers are at.

Kenya is on the fast track to partnership in her all-white, all the way, big prestige accounting firm. She’s young (early 30s at most), but she’s driven. She has just bought her first house, which could use some work, partly because: driven, and partly because Kenya has divested her life of color.

Literally.

It’s bland and beige, beige and bland; when Brian mentions it, Kenya’s response is heartbreaking: “My mother says that color is for children and whores”.

Her mother (played by the brilliant Alfre Woodard), has very strict expectations of her two adult children, which Kenya has worked all her life to meet: be highly successful in a respectable field, and conform to very strict rules of traditional Black high society (annual cotillion/debutante balls are a thing for the whole family). Her father, a very successful doctor, mostly goes along with his wife while being quietly, but firmly, supportive of his children.

A friend at work, who’s about to have the kind of wedding Kenya, quite literally, dreams about, sets her up in a blind date. To her shock, the guy who shows up is white (Simon Baker). Attractive and personable, but also very, very white. And high on the list of things Kenya does not do? White men.

As luck would have it, the two meet again in neutral territory, and Kenya finds herself hiring Simon to landscape her trashy backyard, which (as every genre romance reader knows) leads to getting to know each other better, get rained on, and getting it on.

There are a couple of false starts, and not everyone in her life is fully on board (cue annoying younger brother), but soon Kenya and Brian are in a relationship that fulfills her in ways nothing else has.

Until they have the kind of fight that ends things, and Kenya starts dating the kind of man her mother would happily approve of: a very successful Black man, a few comfortable years older than her; someone as driven as she, and who is, in his own words, “looking to the future” (Blair Underwood). And she’s miserable.

I will not spoil it further, I’ll only say that I buy the happy ending, for several reasons.

One, the chemistry.

And here I don’t just mean the sexual kind–though they do have that in spades.

Brian has zero problem letting Kenya know that he wants her, and he works hard at fitting in with her friends and in her life. He’s supportive of her, pays attention, does the kind of little things that can light your whole soul up after a miserable day at work. He brings joy to her life.

Second, the issue of race and racism is never glossed over during their relationship.

As it’s a movie less than two hours long, there’s only so much they can do to show how much work Brian puts into understanding what Kenya has to deal with every day as a Black person, and especially as a Black woman, and not just professionally. They have conversations about the essential cultural differences between Black and white people in the U.S. (“white people are weird about their dogs” 1), the Black tax, and more.

There are two apologies in the movie, one each, and while Kenya’s is perfect, it also leads to a grand gesture that requires both of them to give something. (Two words: mariachi suit.) And the thing is, I’m generally dissatisfied with grand gestures as reliable indicators of longevity for a relationship, but this one is organic, and deeply meaningful to Kenya, so it works.

The casting is really good. Sanaa Lathan is gorgeous, her profile is exquisite, and she comes across as both extremely capable and really vulnerable; she’s by turns sad and lost, and absolutely in control of everything around her. Simon Baker is one fine man, who plays the self-deprecating, low-key guy who’s also very self-assured, quite well.

The supporting cast are all great, down to the smallest part, and I want to note the work of Blair Underwood, who is also a very, very fine man, who manages to play someone with all the sex appeal of wilted spinach. That, my friends, takes talent.

My one problem with the movie is that we don’t see how Kenya fits in with Brian’s friends or family, it’s all from Kenya’s perspective. Given the last scene, I think we are to understand that she slides in with his people easily, but that is rarely the case in people with such different backgrounds, and I would have liked to see something about that.

I absolutely recommend SOMETHING NEW if you want a sexy and sweet romance to swoon over.

* * * *

1 SING IT. (I could rant endlessly about white people putting the comfort of dogs over the literal lives of Black and Brown people, but we don’t need that here)

5 Responses to “Something New (2006) (sort of a movie review)”

  1. willaful 19/03/2022 at 8:56 PM #

    I think the mariachi suit is proof that she *never* has to worry about whether he really loves her.

    • azteclady 19/03/2022 at 9:45 PM #

      Exactly. Her gesture is to invite him to be her escort, his to wear that there. And it fits so well, IMO.

      (how did you like it?)

      • willaful 20/03/2022 at 3:03 PM #

        A lot! It was realistic without being too depressing. I liked that despite being very open as a person, he still screwed up at times. The scene at the barbecue where he called for her for help cracked me up.

        Something I thought was interesting was how much the camera showed other people paying attention or reacting to them. It never became part of the plot but the outside world was always kind of there.

      • azteclady 20/03/2022 at 5:24 PM #

        To the first point: yes, exactly. The characterization allowed for him to be clearly trying but human, ergo, occasionally getting it wrong.

        To the second: I liked that so much, because while the fantasy aspect is there, the writing and directing clearly wanted the real world to be part of the movie, grounding it in the world, as it were.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Layover”, by Katrina Jackson | Her Hands, My Hands - 30/03/2022

    […] Most recently, there’s one at the end of SOMETHING NEW that I enjoyed quite a […]

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