Sorry for the delay on this one – combination of Netflix, library, and my own procrastination made acquiring the film take longer than I expected. I am caught up on watching films, but will likely do short writeups of the latest three to catch up.
Right upfront, I want to point out that post-studio era romantic comedies kind of have a tough time with me – I don’t often outright dislike them, but they also rarely reach favorite status, and like most, this one falls kind of in the middle for me. That said, this has a lot of serious stuff going on as well, and while I don’t know that all of it was handled perfectly, it certainly has more to offer than most standard rom-coms.
The story involves Kenya, an investment banker nearing the top of her career (about to be made partner) but struggling in her personal life, largely because she’s working 90% of the time to be taken seriously in her job, especially by nervous rich white guys who aren’t sure about entrusting their accounts to her. When a coworker sets her up on a blind date with a white guy, she’s less than enthused, but ends up involved with him anyway, to the consternation of her family.
The film was written, directed, and produced by black women, and that perspective is really refreshing for a film like this. While it follows many standard tropes of the romantic comedy, it feels fresh and interesting, in both obvious and subtle ways. It foregrounds the race issue in a way most movies wouldn’t dare, with Kenya explicitly rejecting Brian at first BECAUSE he’s not black, and having a quite heated conversation in a supermarket about how she can’t just “take a night off” from thinking about race like he wants her to. It’s a very succinct explanation of privilege and yet it also allows that white guy Brian might not be 100% wrong about everything – for instance, she’s not wrong that her office is very white and that the major client she’s working with doesn’t totally trust her judgment, but on the other hand, the person who matters, her actual boss (also an older white guy), never distrusts her or dismisses her in any way.
I did think it was interesting that she attributes the prejudice she experiences, especially at work, completely to being black and not at all to being a woman, or to being 30 when the rest of the executives seem over 50. But I guess a movie can only bite off so much.
Particularly refreshing is the depiction of Kenya’s family and social circle as a whole, who are all well-educated (her parents are both doctors, her father the former head of neurosurgery at a prestigious hospital), well-to-do, and highly cultured. I’m not saying it’s unusual for a black family to BE like this, merely that it’s unusual for movies to show it – but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t see nearly enough movies aimed at black audiences, where I presume it’s much more common. That’s a deficiency in my viewing habits I’m certainly hoping to shift soon.
Stats and stuff…
directed by Sanaa Hamri; written by Kriss Turner
starring Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker, Blair Underwood, Alfre Woodard, Earl Billings, Donald Faison
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Something New entered my chart:
Something New beats Velvet Goldmine
Something New loses to The Orphanage
Something New beats Watch on the Rhine
Something New loses to The Lady from Shanghai
Something New loses to The Blob (1958)
Something New beats Ikiru
Something New beats Fahrenheit 451
Something New beats Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Something New loses to Ben and Me
Something New beats Tales from the Crypt
Something New loses to The Champ (1931)
Final ranking #1252 out of 3613 films on my chart (65%)
It is now my #1 Sanaa Hamri film, my #1 Sanaa Lathan film, my #2 Simon Baker film, and my #25 film of 2006.
Something New was recommended by Marya Gates, a friend from Twitter. Averaging together this #1252 ranking with my #1322 ranking of her other film, Obvious Child, gives Marya an average ranking of 1287.
A few quotes…
Client: Isnâ€™t there someone else coming in?
Kenya: No, Iâ€™m the senior manager.
Kenya’s friend: Weâ€™ve got to let go in order to let love flow. Let go, let flow.
Kenya: I donâ€™t do dogs.
Brian: Oh, I donâ€™t either, weâ€™re just good friends.
Nelson: My sister shouldnâ€™t be going off on a blind date with a white dude! You are not that desperate!
Kenya: Whatâ€™s wrong with beige?
Brian: Well, itâ€™s safe, impersonal. Feels a little like a hotel. Doesnâ€™t reflect you.
Kenya: My mother thinks bright colors are for children and whores.
Brian: I take it you don’t do white guys.
Kenya: I just happen to prefer black men. Itâ€™s not a prejudice, itâ€™s a preference.
Brian: Sure. Itâ€™s your preference to be prejudiced.
Brian: Iâ€™m a landscaper. I take hard earth and I make things bloom.
Kenya’s mother: You have gotten all Bohemian in here, what has gotten into you? [beat] Do not answer that.
Brian: Can we put the “white boys” on hold, the “white folks”, the brothers, and the sisters too? […] It makes me uncomfortable. I wasnâ€™t brought up that way.
Kenya: You donâ€™t have to talk about being white because no one reminds you every day that youâ€™re white. The only time you guys know youâ€™re white is when youâ€™re in a room full of black people. Iâ€™m in a room full of white people and every day they remind me that Iâ€™m black. And if I canâ€™t talk to you about my frustrations, if Iâ€™m just supposed to keep that to myselfâ€¦
Brian: Youâ€™re a senior manager at one of the whitest firms in the country. You graduated top of your class from Stanford and Wharton, for Christâ€™s sake. You own a home. You earn more money than 98% of the country, black or white. Certainly more than me, so you know, tell me about your frustrations.
Kenya: No, you donâ€™t want to hear about how when I show up at an account meeting they always have to regroup when they find out Iâ€™m the one whoâ€™s in charge of their multi-million dollar acquisition. Theyâ€™d rather trust it to a file clerk, the guy who gets my goddam coffee, because heâ€™s white.
Brian: Theyâ€™re jerks. They have nothing to do with us. […] All I wanted was a night off.
Kenya: Thatâ€™s what being black is about, Brian. We donâ€™t get a night off.
Walter: At the end of the day it’s not about skin color or race. It’s about the love connection: the vibe between a man and a woman.
Kenya’s friend: Does he make you feel love? Make you laugh, make you want to forget all the bullshit and just enjoy life, because thatâ€™s what you had with Brian.
Kenya’s father: The point is, love is an adventure, Kenya. It’s not a decision you make for others. It’s a decision you make from your heart. Anyway, the boy’s just white, he ain’t a martian.