“Something New” actually lives up to its title: a romantic comedy that’s both romantic and funny and not nearly as formulaic as so many films of the genre unfortunately tend to be.
It’s not perfect: Director Sanaa Hamri and writer Kriss Turner get a bit obvious with some of their dialogue and imagery. This is a movie in which a woman literally lets her hair down as an indication that she’s loosening up. But the debut film from both women shows a refreshing approach to a premise (an interracial romance), characters (total opposites) and a city (Los Angeles) that we’ve seen many times before.
And if you didn’t know you were in the hands of female filmmakers walking into “Something New,” it should become pretty obvious as soon as Brian (Simon Baker) pulls out the red nail polish and gives Kenya (Sanaa Lathan) a lovingly attentive pedicure. A man never would have thought to include that. Unless he had a foot fetish.
Brian, however, is almost too good to be true, something it takes Kenya a long time to see.
He’s a landscape architect with an easygoing personality — something we could have deduced solely from the beat-up truck he drives and the golden retriever by his side. Brian is also white.
She’s an uptight workaholic on the verge of making partner at her high-powered accounting firm — and we could have figured her out based just on the beige-on-beige color scheme that dominates her home. Kenya happens to be black.
But she’s also looking for love, and since it’s Valentine’s Day at the start of the film, she laments her single state over cocktails with her equally beautiful, professional girlfriends (Wendy Raquel Robinson, Golden Brooks and Taraji P. Henson, each of whom takes a turn functioning as the bawdy Samantha figure in a scene that feels a bit too much like a black version of “Sex and the City”).
When a co-worker sets Kenya up on a blind date at a Starbucks — a location owned by Magic Johnson, no less — she’s shocked to find the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Brian waiting for her, and not her IBM, or Ideal Black Man.
Besides being gorgeous and charismatic (Baker, who starred in the CBS series “The Guardian,” is an alum of People magazine’s most beautiful people list), Brian also is intuitive enough to have Kenya pegged from the start. He calls her on her need to prove she’s “down” in front of the other black patrons, and in time he wears down her defenses while doing a much-needed overhaul of her backyard.
They don’t exactly have crackling chemistry with each other, but they eventually fall into an easy, comfortable friendship that turns unexpectedly (for Kenya perhaps, but not for us) into something deeper. That the relationship evolves so subtly is one of the loveliest parts of “Something New” — no forced witty banter, no game-playing. It just sort of happens believably, and the fact that they’re vastly different is never played in a heavy-handed fashion or for cheap, wacky laughs.
Everyone else, however, has a hard time accepting Kenya’s romantic involvement with a white man — especially her snooty society mother (Alfre Woodard) and her flaky younger brother (Donald Faison), who are only too happy to introduce her to her IBM: a nattily dressed, aggressively romantic lawyer played by Blair Underwood.
His character’s arrival feels like a bit of plot contrivance and never seems to pose a real threat to Kenya’s relationship with Brian. Then again, you know the filmmakers are onto something truly new when they can get a whole theater full of women to root against Blair Underwood.