Something New is one my favorite “guilty pleasure” film. It’s one of those movies that I have to stop and watch whenever it’s on the Oxygen Network and it’s on at least once a week. Simon Baker is always to-die-for (gurrrrrrl, he is foiiiiiiine) and this is Simon Baker at his best. He’s laid-back, handsome, charming, an owner of a golden retriever named Max, and isn’t afraid to get dirty (he’s a landscape architect). He is just diiiivine. And those laugh lines around his eyes when he laughs or smiles… oooh yeah. Gimme some of that. Ahem. Sanaa Lathan, on the other hand, is one of the most beautiful women on the planet. She’s so poised and elegant, has beautiful bone structure and the cutest button nose (I can eat it with a spoon. nom-nom-nom). She is just yummy. So pretty. I just really enjoy looking at her and listening to her talk. “It’s not about skin color or race, but the energy, the vibe between a man and a woman…” says one character and these two make it work. They’re beautiful people and have electricity like whoa. It is one of my favorite romance trope: she is an uptight, image-conscious, career-driven woman and he is an easygoing, happy-go-lucky charmer who runs a successful business, but doesn’t let it run his life. They clash at first meeting, eventually warm up to each other, go out on a date, get caught on a torrential downpour while out and about; he puts his arm around her, she looks at him, they start kissing (warily at first, cautiously, testing the waters), and she tells him it’s not going to work. He drops her off at her house, they awkwardly say goodbye, and she walks out of his car and into her house, dejected and wondering if she’s made a mistake. The doorbell rings. She opens the door. It’s him. They go at it like Bonobo monkeys in her all-beige foyer. I swoon.
Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) is a successful, elegant, beautiful African-American accountant who is about to make partner at the mostly white firm she works for. Her family is part of the cream of the crop of African-American high society and her best friends are as successful as she is: one is a doctor, one is a federal judge, and I forget what the other one does. At the high point of her career, Kenya wants to settle down with the IBM: Ideal Black Male. She has a list of very specific qualities she wants in a man as well as a list of what she doesn’t want. No dogs, no louder color than beige… no white dudes. While out with her girlfriends one night, one friend implores Kenya to “let go and let flow,” and explore her options. When a friend at work mentions she has a friend named Brian (Simon Baker) who runs his own business, is good-looking and smart, and would be perfect for Kenya, Kenya reluctantly goes for it. She enters the Starbucks where her friend had set up the meeting looking around for a hot black guy, but doesn’t find anyone that her friend might have set her up with. A handsome white guy introduces himself to her as her blind date and she is visibly dismayed. While awkwardly looking for somewhere to sit with him, Kenya goes out of her way to talk to the African-Americans in the establishment, even commenting on a sister’s weave. Brian notes her discomfort and correctly surmises that Kenya wants to prove she is “down” and hip with the community even though she’s about to have coffee with a white dude. Kenya tells Brian straight-out she doesn’t date white dudes and leaves.
When Kenya attends her friend Lia’s engagement party held at Lia’s mother’s garden, she marvels at the beautiful landscape and praises the design to Lia’s mother who says she owes it all to her absolutely brilliant landscape architect. Kenya had recently purchased a house and hasn’t had time to work on her overgrown backyard. Lia’s mom says Kenya must ABSOLUTELY meet her landscaper and who else would it be but Brian Kelly (gulp). Kenya’s all, “Nah-uh, no way, I don’t think so,” but Brian tells her it wouldn’t hurt if he just checked out the yard, give her an estimate, see if she likes his ideas. Brian goes over to Kenya’s house in his raggedy Jeep with his big golden retriever in tow and Kenya freaks out. This dude could NOT be more wrong for her even if he tried. But her yard is nasty-looking and Brian says he could take care of her garden (heh-heh-heh). Kenya decides to hire him for his landscaping services because he seems to be very good at what he does and soon realizes that this dude is… hawt. While watching him till her soil (heh-heh-heh), Kenya gets all hot and bothered, even as she insists to herself that he is so not her type. Soon she is making coffee for him, eating Chinese take-out in her living room with him, going out for walks with him, kissing him in the rain, allowing him rock her world in the foyer… and letting him paint her toenails scarlet (ooh baby).
But all is not well in paradise. Kenya is visibly uncomfortable whenever Brian kisses her or shows affection for her in front of her friends and family. She freaks out on Brian when he tells her to take out her weave and show off her natural hair (you gonna tell a black woman how to deal with her hair, Brian? REEEEALLLY???) Kenya’s brother (Donald Faison) is rude to him, slaps his hand away when Brian tries to shake hands with him, and tells Kenya that he doesn’t have to be nice to the “help” (dick). At a party, Kenya’s mother (Alfre Woodard) openly talks to Kenya about an IBM (Blair Underwood) in front of Brian. When Kenya tells Brian about a client at work who doesn’t seem to trust her skills because she’s black and tells him about “black tax” (working twice as hard but getting less money, less recognition than their white counterparts), Brian asks her if she’s just being paranoid. Not everything’s so great on Brian’s end, either. When he tries to talk to the African-American boyfriends of Kenya’s friends and brings up “black tax,” they all make fun of him and make him feel unwelcome. The two of them eventually get into a big fight at the grocery store when Kenya starts talking about the racist client she has at work, Brian dismisses her concerns with a “Not now, babe,” and asks for a day-off from the “black and white thing.” Kenya is rightfully upset because Brian doesn’t seem to understand that she can’t take a day-off from being black. Brian says maybe it’s not going to work, Kenya spitefully agrees, and the two break up. Two weeks later, when Brian realizes that he might have been an insensitive tool, he goes to Kenya’s house and says he loves her, but Kenya steels herself against his charm and all-together hotness and says, “Nope, already moved on to Blair Underwood, sucka.”
Even though it’s a “fluffy” romantic movie, it really made me think about race issues when it comes to romantic relationships (I know, right?). On one hand, I see Brian’s point when he tells Kenya that they don’t have to talk about race all the time, but I’m also with Kenya when she points out that Brian is a white dude and he doesn’t ever have to talk about being white because the only time he might be aware of his skin color is he if were the only white face in a sea of black faces. Kenya, on the other hand, has to contend with being black AND a woman in what is essentially a white man’s world all the time. Being black is not a switch that she can flip. Brian doesn’t seem to understand that even though Kenya is “well-spoken,” beautiful, and well-educated, she has to deal with prejudice and discrimination day in and day out because she is black. I don’t know why I was put off when Brian asks Kenya to take off her weave (I saw Good Hair a documentary by Chris Rock specifically about the “black” hair). I think it’s meant to illustrate that Brian wants Kenya to embrace who she is, but who she is is a woman of color and yet when she starts talking about the issues she encounters as a black woman, he’s all, “Pffft… I don’t want to hear it.” I also wasn’t very comfortable with the fact that Blair Underwood’s character Mark was portrayed as a slick, yet controlling douchebag just so to hammer the point that Brian is supposed to be the one for Kenya. “Yeah, the black guy sucks, go with the white guy!” Like I’m pretty sure Mark could have been shown as a nice, handsome, perfect guy and Kenya would still choose Brian, not because Mark sucks but because she loves Brian, you know?
The character of Kenya is pretty fleshed out. She’s beautiful and successful, yet she yearns for the approval of her family and friends, as well as colleagues. She’s uptight and careful about her image because she wants to be seen as an intelligent, capable career woman and not just a black woman. She has insecurities. She has fears. She has neuroses. Brian Kelly, on the other hand, is pretty much a stock character from the Romance Hero Factory. He’s good-looking, kind, tolerant, successful, hard-working, charming, and has a beautiful smile. Oh, and he has an adorable golden retriever named Max. We don’t know his fears, his insecurities, or his idiosyncrasies. We see a couple of scenes from his point of view, which is when he is alone with Mike Epps (the boyfriend of the federal judge character) and Mike Epps basically threatens to kick his ass because he’s a white guy who might hurt his beautiful black sista, then another scene where he goes up to Mike Epps and his friends and they laugh at him and make him feel like he’ll never fit in. But come on, is he so socially retarded that he thinks he can go up to a bunch of dudes he’s never met before and just blurt out “black tax” and they wouldn’t want to kick his ass? Other than that, all the scenes in the movie are from Kenya’s point of view. We don’t see where Brian lives, who his friends are (at the wedding scene, we see Cliff from Cheers and he may or may not be Brian’s father), and what he likes to do when he’s not hard at work. When Kenya seeks out Brian to talk him at the end of the movie, she goes to this place of work; she doesn’t call him on the phone to find out where he is or anything. Does she NOT know where he lives or his cell phone number? Throughout the movie, we see that she dates him long enough that he’s sleeping at her house, they’re throwing a party together, they’re going grocery shopping together, he’s calling her “babe,” and yet SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHERE HE LIVES? Or how else to contact him but to go to his place of work? REALLY?!?! What do you really know about Brian, Kenya? I know he’s Simon Baker and all, but REALLY?! You don’t know where he lives? REALLY?!?
Before I wrote this review, I never really thought about the movie that much, which is why I guess I liked it so much. I just thought it was a nice, cutesy, romantic movie about a hot white dude and a hot black chick getting together. Then I saw it again today and I was like, “wait, what?!” I still like the movie a lot and think Simon Baker is the hawtness, but while watching the movie again today when I could pause and rewind and pay more attention to it, I realized that there are a lot of things about it that were not so great, as I enumerated above. Anyway, it’s a fun movie to watch if you’re a Simon Baker and Sanaa Lathan fan and they really do have awesome chemistry together and you’d probably enjoy it a lot more if you didn’t think about it so much, like I did just now. I’m gonna have to give this one a B-.
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