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Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) thought she had it all: a successful career, good friends and family. There was just one thing she didn't have under control: her love life. All that changes when she meets sexy, free-spirited Brian Kelly (Simon Baker). But when her ideal man (Blair Underwood) arrives on the scene, Kenya must decide between the relationship everyone expects and the romance no one expected.
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I was unexpectedly moved.
As a brief introduction to the film, the lead character is a successful, upper middle-class African-American female senior manager, and up for partner, in a high-profile accounting firm. At the beginning of the movie, she laments - along with her equally successful, single black female friends - her single status. They briefly note the statistic that 42.4 percent of black women have never married. So, the ladies subscribe to the mantra "let go, let flow" as they try to let go of lists and be more welcoming to love with an Ideal Black Man (IBM). But instead of an IBM in walks Brian (Simon Baker) as a hunky, blond, almost beachboy-like lanscaper. And soon Kenya is conflicted between following her heart to choose love or her head to choose an IBM.
So, I will say upfront that there are obvious challenges in the film. At times, the director stages the actors in ways that are not only awkward, but also frustrating. There is a very touching scene where Brian comes to Kenya, with his heart in his hands he tells her how he feels about her. Unfortunately, it was terribly staged so it was actually hard to see each character's reactions in that scene. And there are times when the script feels frustratingly underdeveloped. I would have loved for Kenya and Brian to have SOMETHING in common from which to build. I am not really a fan of opposites attract stories. Perhaps if they discovered commonalities, then I would have believed that they fell in love due to a soul connection versus just from physical attraction.
But, that's being picky. And when you are watching a Romantic Comedy, you shouldn't really be that picky. I would say there is probably only one Romantic Comedy that really gets it right on all notes ["When Harry Met Sally"]. But I love other movies like "Pretty Woman" just as much because the storyline is good enough and the quality of the acting elevates them both to great. "Something New" is in the "Pretty Woman" category for me ... not perfect but gosh near perfect for me.
The cast really is pitch perfect for this film. I recall one reviewer wondering how Gabrielle Union and Matthew McConaughey would have done. I had to laugh at that. Gabrielle is great and she certainly has the poise but Sanaa brings a subtlety to this performance that is underappreciated. Similarly, to be honest, I think Simon Baker is hands down a better male actor. Matthew, sweet as he seems in his romantic roles, plays lead loverboy without depth and delicacy. Baker, on the other hand, infuses his character Brian with a gentle, guileless, and earthy soulfullness that really impressed me.
You have to believe that Brian is sexy, guileless, innocent, and takes all of the abuse from Kenya's friends/family without a lot of silent patience. Yeah, clearly this too-good-to-be-true guy was written by women, but Baker gave him qualities that actually made him seem real. Interestingly, Simon Baker is actually Australian, which we can easily forget since he plays so many American characters. He, as Brian, is the right note of easy going without being (too much) of a doormat, assertive without being pushy, and loving without being wimpering. With a lesser actor, all of that would have fallen apart. And we finally get to see him finally pushback on Kenya in a somewhat awkwardly staged but necessary fight scene in a grocery store. Brian is definitely not a pushover.
Put Lathan and Baker together and there is great chemistry. I mean, undeniable and hot chemistry between the main characters. That's what I loved about "Pretty Woman" and here it is again for me. It is more than their obvious individual hotness. I suppose it is the undefinable crackle you feel between them and looking at them. It's wonderful and is what makes the idea that they fell in love believable. Good acting and great chemistry can get you through almost any script!
Perhaps it's Baker's gentleness as Brian that makes his assertive, passionate, and yes generous, sexual encounters with her all the more sexy. Who knew gentle, soulfull Brian could be such a wonderful and exciting lover, knowing how to give this women - who does not yet even fully know herself - exactly what she needs in and out of the bedroom. Ladies? Come on now. You know that hall scene was FANTASTIC! That is what really made me say ... oh wow, he's a hunk.
The supporting cast is wonderful as well, especially the underemployed Wendy Raquel Robinson, Mike Epps, and Earl Billings. Each plays their respective characters with believeability, heart, and reflectiveness. They are not useless side characters. They are well-rounded friends and family that actually add to the story versus distracting from it.
The discussions of race in the movie were interesting and timely. It is true for some communities of black women and so is timely and appropriate. And for a romantic comedy to take on, with a respectful level of dignity and fairness, the racial challenges one may face with interracial dating from a black woman's perspective is certainly something new. I was very impressed with that.
Yes, there were some things that seemed exaggerated. The way Kenya blew Brian off when she first met him because he was white was crazy. The race-based fight in a grocery store seemed a little forced. And some of her friends' rude comments to Brian felt a little over the top. But they did highlight some real questions. How can I let go of my pre-conceived notion of what race the man of my dreams will be? How can I communicate with my partner about racial issues even when he may not relate to everything I say? How do I deal with rude friends who may disrespect my non-black partner due to his race?
These aren't exactly easy questions to answer and I think it was actually better that the movie didn't try to give simple answers to complex issues that might depend on the couple and their temperments.
But I think part there are parts of the discussion that are missing. Much of the rifts you see between Kenya and Brian are not necessarily racial differences but CULTURAL, ECONOMIC, and GENDER differences. Culture: There is a cringe-worthy scene where Kenya appears embarrassed and upset when Brian asks her about her weave. Economic: A couple of times, her friends call him "a gardener," highlighting the class difference. Even he notes the money-making difference between them during a fight. Gender: I know of NO MAN who wants to address serious issues when he is not in that headspace. It seemed that she didn't really know how to communicate with a man that would make him feel appreciated and respected for his boundaries.
Yeah the racial stuff is there. But there were times where I felt like she was not really as interested in talking about race as she was in feeling validated. Note a short scene where she basically agrees with her black date on the "black tax" idea and there was no further discussion. Parallel that to the scene with Brian where they spent more time arguing about talking about race than she did even talking about it with the other guy. Interesting. In the end, doesn't it all come back to wanting to be loved and understood for who you are?
And turnaround is fairplay. Kenya needed to appreciate Brian more. She never seemed to give any thought to how the poor guy might feel about her rejecting him (multiple times) because of his race. Not only her; some of her friends and family were subtley rude to him several times. She only addressed that once and it would have been nice for her to give some thought to how he might feel about it.
At the end of the day, these comments are compliments. It's a film where there is plenty of room for growth within the characters and discussion for the audience.
The filmmakers (director, writer, producer - all black females) obviously put much love and care into making this film. It is seen throughout. From the wonderful use of lighting to the wardrobe choices, color is used to help tell the story. Brian enters wearing either warmly reddish colors or earthy colors. The clothes reflects his earthy, soulfullness calmness. And reinforces how he seems to go with the flow and yet challenge Kenya to change her flow without any manipulation or hidden agendas. Kenya's colors change as she changes. With Brian's encouragement, she introduces more pinks and reds and shows her sexy, earthy, vibrant side - along with her natural hair. And he helps her bring more color onto her nails, into her home, especially with painting her walls together, and of course into her backyard. And metaphorically, he brings color into her heart.
The lighting reinforces the color theme as well. There is a sensual dance scene where colors are used to highlight Kenya's own desire for livliness and sensuality in her life. Additionally, there are a couple of scenes (e.g. the post-coital bedroom scene) where they are lit in such a way that their skin colors almost match. And during the aforementioned fight scene, the lighting is so bright and saturated that Kenya almost looks white-washed, which was a very sneakily clever effect. Very very well done.
Overall, a movie for me does not have to be perfect. It just needs to evoke emotion. I certainly felt emotions with this film and I felt very moved. I felt the love between the characters, the chalk and the clay building their foundation of love. I felt happy to see their story and excited to see their sexual chemistry. Mostly, I felt sad to see it end. I hope in time this movie gets its due. It is something wonderful.
Kenya reminds me of my self a little bit, her and I are kinda uncomfortable about stepping outside the box and just living life without having so many rules lol!
Kenya is a corporate woman who is upset with her life at work because of her brown skin she is over looked by her millionaire clients. Her home life is extremely structured and boring, she surrounds herself with work until a landscaper is suggested to her knocks on her door. With her standard life and his open mind and free spirit and the fact that he is white makes Kenya uneasy.
It takes sometime to break down her shell but she falls in love!!
I'm kinda upset at some of the reviews on this movie, people have the right to thier own opinion but I disagree with people saying Kenya's charater was racist or the movie itself was racist .. REALLY?!? I thought the exact opposite. I dislike ignorant un-useful reviews.
If you don't like inter-racial couples WHY watch the movie? Love is color blind ..