'Something New': Is Mr. White Mr. Right?
You can't exactly say Bridget Jones's Diary meets Crash in Something New, but for a romantic comedy, it gets pretty heavily into racial issues.
Sanaa Lathan stars as Kenya McQueen, a workaholic sistah whose search for Mr. Right leads her to Mr. White. Brian Kelly (Simon Baker) could hardly be more perfect, but Kenya doesn't "do" white men (or dogs or spiders or sushi...).
"I just happen to prefer black men," she tells him. "It's not a prejudice, it's a preference."
"So it's your preference to be prejudiced," he replies, instead of leaving. Girl, this one's a keeper. He's also a damned good landscape architect, and Kenya's got this jungly backyard behind the house she just bought, a power walk away from the accounting firm where she's on the rise.
Kenya's prejudice isn't entirely groundless. At work she faces the "Black Tax– You have to work twice as hard just to prove yourself equal." In an ideal world, she and Brian would be an ideal couple, but is this world ready for that kind of idealism?
Kenya's parents (Alfre Woodard, Earl Billings) encourage her to find a good African American man and settle down; her brother (Donald Faison)– who never seems to date the same woman twice, so he's not much of a role model– is even more emphatic about the need to stick to one's own kind. Her fellow singletons (Wendy Raquel Robinson, Golden Brooks, Taraji P. Henson) encourage her to stop worrying and enjoy it while it lasts. Robinson's boyfriend (Mike Epps) has a viewpoint too...
Okay, so Kenya has a few too many sounding boards (and I didn't mention the Jewish co-worker who fixed her up with Brian in the first place), but writer Kriss Turner and first-feature director Sanaa Hamri do a good job of keeping their Greek chorus from drowning out the principals.
They also keep the mood reasonably light most of the time, considering the potential for soapy melodrama. Baker manages to make Brian seem human, despite being perfect. He's totally at ease in a multicultural world, even able to laugh at Sommore's jokes that reinforce Kenya's attitudes; and he knows how to subtly (but not chauvinistically) take charge of Kenya when she needs it. This white man literally brings color into her beige world.
The girls talk early on about the "IBM– Ideal Black Man" they're looking for and how they need to lower their standards– "Let go and let flow"– if they're going to have any fun.
Because it's a movie where perfect men grow on trees, Kenya also meets Brian's polar opposite, Mark Harper (Blair Underwood), who is black, career-driven, and, in fact, just like her.
Something New balances reality and fantasy in just the right proportions so that this Valentine's Day hearts will come in all colors.