Sanaa Hamri's brisk, refreshingly understated romantic comedy Something New is the rare movie that delivers on its title's promise. By bluntly integrating race and class into its stock love-conquers-all story line, this innovative fairy talewhich neither resorts to overblown palliatives nor shortchanges its genre bona fides effectively diminishes the stink of do-gooder dross like last year's Crash.
Hamri's film shares the same L.A. setting and bourgeois perspective as that self-important mess, but little else. Her African American heroine, Kenya (Sanaa Lathan), is a rising star at a high-end accounting firm with little time to devote to finding a husband. Enter Brian (Simon Baker), a laid-back, New Agey, very available landscape architect (none dare call him yardman) who happens to be white. Kenya's well-heeled parents (Earl Billings and Alfre Woodard, who gleefully plays against type) and a trio of her gal pals weigh in on the budding relationship, while another potential suitor (Blair Underwood as an unctuous IBM, or "ideal black man") threatens to undo it.
The plotting may be familiar and mundane, but that's precisely what makes Something New work: Its thorny, mostly unresolved questions of identity and racial affiliation are couched in identifiable everyday concerns, like dealing with job and family stress and worrying that a suitable mate may never turn up. In the end, the film is a lucid, tender appeal for flexibility, and no amount of carjackings, LAPD shakedowns, or freeway conflagrations can rival the pleasure of seeing such a concept so engagingly explored.
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