Dir: Sanaa Hamri. US. 2006. 100mins.
Enjoyable, without being especially deepor involving, the romantic comedy SomethingNew should appeal to fans of Waiting To Exhale and HowStella Got Her Groove Back. Like them, this latest picture features astrong, black female protagonist who finds it difficult to find a suitablepartner and, as such, is clearly targeted at a female audience.
Box-office in the US, wherethe film opens on Feb 3, may be determined by how African American audiencesreact to the sometimes sensitive issue of interracial dating (in Waiting To Exhale, the centralcharacter's husband left her for his white mistress, engendering much negativepress).
Waiting To Exhale took more than $90m worldwide while How Stella Got Her Groove Back took justunder $40m - and for both more than three-quarters of their global grosses camefrom the US. Australian actor Simon Baker may help Something New in some English-language territories but otherwiseexpect it to have a low profile.
Kenya Denise McQueen (Lathan) is a senior manager at a predominantly white, male,Los Angeles accounting firm. She's doing great professionally - she's up forpartner - but her social life is another story.
Kenya and her three bestgirlfriends (Robinson, Brooks and Henson) often get together and discuss thedismal dating outlook for educated, successful, black career women. Onesuggests that they have to expand their horizons.
For Kenya that meansreluctantly agreeing to a blind date set up by an office colleague. But she isunprepared when landscape architect Brian Kelly (Baker) turns out to be white.Uncomfortable with the idea, she instead hires him to landscape her garden -but the more time she spends with Brian, the more she grows to like him.
Their biggest obstacle isKenya's feeling of unease, a self-consciousness heightened by disapprovingremarks from her mother (Woodard), brother (Faison) and girlfriends. Whenhandsome, smart, personable, African-American corporate lawyer Mark Harper(Underwood) enters Kenya's life, her problems seem tobe solved. But love plays by its own rules.
Aiming for a mainstreamaudience, the script by first-time feature writer KrissTurner is quite broad. The characters wear their emotions on their sleeves andthe comedy is often obvious, perhaps reflecting Turner's TV sitcom background (Cosby, The Bernie Mac Show). Humour poking fun at the black middle classwill no doubt resonate with like members of the audience.
Music video director Hamri shows a sure hand in her feature debut, although ascene of Kenya and her girlfriends out to dinner induces nausea, thanks to acamera that constantly circles the women.
Lathan (The Best Man,Love AndBasketball) certainly is a graceful presence on screen, even if hercharacter is so uptight and unwilling to bend that it's difficult to understandwhy Brian even bothers.
Baker, in turn, is almosttoo perfect, which makes him slightly bland - and, again, the audience has toquestion why he is trying so hard to woo her.
Wendy Raquel Robinson
Taraji P Henson