Dateless on yet another Valentine's Day, Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan), a tightly wrapped Los Angeles professional, ticks off the qualities that her IBM (Ideal Black Man) must possess. College education. Taller than she is. Steady job. Good teeth. No pets.
While Kenya worries about becoming a statistic, one of the 42.4 percent of black women who never marry, her friends worry that this accountant on the verge of making partner at her upscale firm is far too inflexible to merge with a life partner.
A buoyant comedy about the dating game and someone scared to depart from her game plan, Something New, like Hitch, is about the professional who must concede that when it comes to love, everyone's an amateur.
Might it be that Kenya's IBM is not black but blond, and as laidback as she is uptight?
Fixed up on a blind date with Bryan (Simon Baker), a landscape architect, Kenya realizes that she is not colorblind. At the Starbucks where they meet, Bryan sticks out like a mini-marshmallow in a barrel of coffee beans. Her discomfort is as obvious as his interest. Kenya doesn't want to date Bryan, but when she sees a lush garden that he designed she hires him to restore her ruin of a backyard and treats him like the help.
Kenya and Bryan are both victims of racism and also guilty of it. But the colorful mosaic of their courtship is no downer like Crash, but rather an upbeat account of expanding social and romantic possibilities in a world where women wear the suits and men speak the language of flowers. Like Mellors and Lady Chatterley, Bryan literally and metaphorically cultivates Kenya's garden.
Something New marks the feature film debuts of two gifted filmmakers. Director Sanaa Hamri, previously the maker of music videos for Prince and Destiny's Child, lets Lathan and Baker blossom. Similarly, screenwriter Kriss Turner, executive producer and writer of the TV series Everybody Hates Chris, knows and likes her characters so well that we can't help but feel as she does.
A romantic comedy is only as effective as the magnetism of its leads. The more the lovely Lathan (Love and Basketball, Out of Time) tries to repel the charmingly rumpled Baker (of the late CBS show The Guardian), the more you can feel the magnetic pull of her attraction. Kenya may not be colorblind, but love is.
Also quite fine, in both senses of the word, is Blair Underwood as the IBM attracted to the sparkle Bryan has brought to Kenya's eyes. Caricatured but endearing are Donald Faison as Kenya's player of a kid brother and Alfre Woodard as her snobbish mother.
I don't want to overpraise this unassuming film. But I must say that not since Hitch have I checked judgment at the concession counter and happily succumbed to a movie's charms.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Something New *** (out of four stars)
Produced by Stephanie Allain, directed by Sanaa Hamri, written by Kriss Turner, photography by Shane Hurlbut, music by Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, distributed by Focus Features.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.
Kenya McQueen. . . Sanaa Lathan
Bryan Kelly. . . Simon Baker
Nelson. . . Donald Faison
Mark. . . Blair Underwood
Joyce McQueen. . . Alfre Woodard
Parent's guide: PG-13 (discreet sexuality, racial humor)
Playing at: area theaters