Wednesday, 28 February 2018

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Something New (Sanaa Hamri, 2006)

Kenya (Love & Basketball's Sanaa Lathan) is a high-flying career woman who has not been able to find that special someone who ticks all the boxes, including being employed and educated to a similar level as herself - and he has to be black.

All her plans go out the window when hunky white gardener Brian (The Mentalist's Simon Baker) turns up to landscape her backyard, and ends up landscaping her heart... 

This movie is the definition of fine. The direction is solid, the evocation of its specific milieu is interesting (and not treated as some kind of ethnographic study), and it features a pair of attractive, likeable lead actors.

All the elements of the production are good - I would say they are better better than the script, but certain gaps in the story make me suspicious that more character beats and context were left on the cutting room floor to make the movie more 'commercial'.

Something New's lack of 'newness' is the key flaw. The premise and first act are laying the foundation for a look at the intricacies of interracial relationships which the movie ultimately fails to explore. I spent too much of this movie wondering what a more incisive version of this story would look like.

The movie is so formulaic that it is easy to start daydreaming about what the movie could have been. It is not a good mindset for analysing a movie (investigate what is there, not what you want to be there), but it did make the movie a little more enjoyable to watch.

Speaking of formulaic, Something New features one of my least favourite romcom archetypes: the man's man who reacquaints the intelligent (i.e. emotionally stunted and sexually repressed) career woman with simple, carnal pleasures.

Brian is particularly odd example of this character. There is something kinda oppressive about how intelligent and empathetic Brian is in the early part of the movie. It's a clumsy attempt to make a character who can complement Kenya's intelligence and self-control, but it just comes off as a bit condescending.

The way that Brian is able to counter Kenya's every move was so ridiculous that it felt like the movie is building toward a mid-act twist where it is revealed that Brian is an obsessive stalker who knows how to gaslight Kenya into loving him.

Sounds familiar...
There is something aggravating about a romcom that presents a professional woman reconnecting with her humanity through a man's man, and the addition of race made it feel ever-so-slightly odious. The moment where Kenya learns to loosen up comes after Brian convinces Kenya to go back to her natural hair. Hey, dude. It's her hair - she can do whatever she wants, dumbass.

Eventually there are fractures in the relationship due to Brian's ignorance of the societal pressures Kenya has to deal with. Since she is an high-paying job, he finds it hard to believe that she still has to deal with racism. In this respect, Something New does manage to offer something different from the usual romcom formula.

The problem is that rather than diving into the dynamics of race and the difficulties Kenya has in communicating this to Brian, the movie does not deviate from a predictable third act, where all conflicts are resolved and our lovebirds live happily ever after in wedded bliss. Zzzz.

As stated at the outset,  while it falls short in terms of saying something new about race, Something New is just fine as a formula rom com. Lathan and Baker are a good-looking pair, even if their chemistry is not quite there, and any movie that features Alfre Woodward and Taraji P. Henson is doing something right.

No comments:

Post a Comment