** (out of 5)
February 3, 2006
Sanaa Lathan as KENYA MCQUEEN
Simon Baker as BRIAN KELLY
Mike Epps as WALTER
Donald Faison as NELSON MCQUEEN
Blair Underwood as MARK
Studio: Focus Features
Directed by: Sanaa Hamri
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Normally, I don’t read the reviews from other critics prior to writing mine. However, in the case of “Something New,” I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the opinions.
As a rule, critics generally don’t like romantic comedies. Heck, as a rule, they don’t like any sort of formula genre feature. And to no big surprise, most of the criticism “Something New” is facing is that it is too much of a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy.
However, us critics are a cowardly bunch. No one really wants to expose the problems with this movie for fear of being called racist. It’s like the outpouring of love the critics have for “Brokeback Mountain.” Oh, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who liked “Brokeback,” but there are plenty of those out there who didn’t want to be the one who criticized the movie for fear of being labeled as a homophobe.
Similarly, I haven’t seen a whole lot of criticism for the treatment of racial issues with “Something New.” Rather, the movie is praised for its choices to bring these issues into the forefront. However, there’s really nothing new about “Something New.” Spike Lee did the whole interracial romance thing back in the 90s with “Jungle Fever,” and pretty much every family sitcom in the 80s and 90s touched on the issue as well.
The movie tells the story of a racist black woman named Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) who refuses to date white men, suddenly faced with a white guy named Brian (Simon Baker) that she likes. “Something New” tries so hard to be significant with this issue that it collapses under its own weight. Throughout the film, no one has the guts to say that this kind of attitude is wrong. They wash it away as just being close-minded. Any time it pushes too close to this point, it obfuscates Kenya’s bigotry by portraying the character as neurotic and uptight.
But in all reality, she – and many of the other characters of the film – are about as colorblind as David Duke.
In fact, the biggest difference you’ll see in “Something New” compared to these previous examples is the overwhelming arrogance of the characters in neglecting to realize that their thinking is wrong.
The race card is played ad nauseam throughout the film, and while it has a few blatant examples of a double standard (like the stereotypical white racist businessman who doesn’t like a black girl in charge of his accounts), it fails to see its own hypocrisy.
Some of the lines and situations in this film are so alarmingly bigoted that it’s hard to believe they were put in a mainstream film. In one scene, Kenya says to Brian, “I only date black men. It’s a preference.” Holy guacamole! Image Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt in a movie as the loving hero saying, “I only date white women. It’s a preference.” If this happened, Johnny Cochran would rise from the grave to sue them for defamation.
As a romantic comedy, “Something New” sort of works. But even then it stumbles. The character of Brian has no excitement to him. He has no depth and offers no spark like the love interests in other classic romantic comedies like “Pretty Woman” and “When Harry Met Sally.” Rather, he’s a boring character that could have easily been portrayed by John Corbett before he left acting for a country music career.
And on the racial side, “Something New” falls flat. Not being black myself, I don’t pretend to understand “the black experience.” But I’ve felt my fair share of discrimination in different situations. The bellyaching that goes on in “Something New” reminds me of the overworking of the issue in a film like “Crash” (which made it on my top ten worst films of 2005, by the way).
Ultimately, the problems Kenya faces in the movie are completely of her own design. And while she faces discrimination every day, it’s an empty conflict. After all, as her lover points out in the movie, she’s got a better job and makes more money than most of the people – white or black – in this country. Her problem isn’t that she’s been discriminated against all her life. Her problem is that she’s a whiney, spoiled brat who never really sees the error of her ways.