Something New

Directed by Sanaa Hamri

Focus Features

There's a Harlequin romance feel to "Something New," but it's a good Harlequin.

It's a romance about the man drought of an African-American woman (Sanaa Lathan) determined to settle down with an African-American man. She reluctantly reconsiders after meeting a charming white landscaper (Simon Baker), which is when "Something New" confidently zeroes in on the issues that might come up between two people in that situation. Conversations about race are loaded (she freaks when he asks about her hair weave), behavior grows self-conscious (there'a a zesty scene in a Starbucks where she suddenly develops a need to show all the other black patrons how down she is) and the whole thing is held together by the theme of a woman figuring out which of the things she thought she needed from life are crucial and which don't matter. "Something New" is shaky when it gets too "All My Kids" on us. The sex scenes, for instance, go from 0 to naked in a crazily brief time. Also, the movie is ridiculously overinvested in showing how manly Baker is, apparently to offset the fact that he is never seen without huge quantities of marigolds. So, the movie gives him a big dog as a constant companion and has him drive a weathered pickup, flashing conspicuous biceps as he rolls up his artfully weathered workshirts. (And, by the way, who wouldn't fall in love with a landscaper who can make wisteria, which in real life takes years to bloom, flourish overnight?) None of that stuff matters much, though, when "Something New" gets down to the business of two people tackling their romantic uncertainties. I love the doubtful look on Lathan's face, for instance, as she tries to confidently say this line: "I just happen to prefer black men. It's not a prejudice. It's a preference." You could agree with that statement or not, but pretty much everyone will agree with one character who says, "We're all mixed up." He's referring to the American melting pot, but he could just as easily mean the American search for love.

-- Chris Hewitt

knight ridder newspapers

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