Something New centers on Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan), a wound-tight Los Angeles senior accountant in search of that elusive Perfect Man. She and her equally successful career-woman girlfriends forever lament about the impossibility of finding an IBM (Ideal Black Man), but Kenya gamely goes on a blind date where she meets Brian (Simon Baker), a landscape architect. Brian is handsome, smart and sweet, but he is also white, which up-ends Kenya's "perfect" controlled buppie world.
From a sharply observant yet deeply romantic screenplay by Kriss Turner (a veteran of "Everybody Hates Chris," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Living Single"), Sanaa Hamri has directed a beguilingly heartfelt, low-key farce, which doesn't stint from addressing the harder issues of race and its ramifications. Brian is made to undergo all manner of disses and humiliations proffered up by Kenya's definitely wary if not downright disapproving friends, especially the males. In business, she herself is forever paying "black tax"-i.e., putting up with crap and working above and beyond the call of duty to prove her equality with white men. Turner maintains a smooth, unhysterical tone which avoids the didactic and elicits the maximum comic and emotional possibilities from the material. Her film, thankfully, never becomes predictable or formulaic, with people behaving in recognizably muddled, human ways that, in these dire days of the most obvious cinematic calculation, seem akin to a miracle. Shane Hurlbut's cinematography and Mayne Berke's production design give it an alluringly upscale look, while the music by erstwhile Prince collaborators Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman is beautifully subtle and evocative.
Kenya is not an easy woman to warm to, with her uptight ways and myriad prejudices, and Lathan admirably stays in character, never asking us to love her in spite of it all. She's obviously no pushover, but when Brian finally gets under her skin and she loses her weave (a very telling scene) and, with her hair, loosens up and comes alive, you feel that a true blossoming has happened. Golden Boy Brian could almost be a too-perfect wish fulfillment, but Baker's relaxed performance has real warmth, conveying a very SoCal kind of unharried complexity. The script has him saying "I love you" probably more than any onscreen male has in years and, to his credit, Baker makes it resoundingly real every time.
A gratifyingly sizeable cast adds dimension and color, with Alfre Woodard amusing as Kenya's snobby, socially ambitious mother and Earl Billings as her less abrasive, very sweet Dad. Cherubic Donald Faison manages to be appealing as Kenya's obnoxious, womanizing brother and Blair Underwood is silky-smooth as a romantic contender, who would seem to have everything any woman needs. Wendy Raquel Robinson, Golden Brooks and Taraji P. Henson are sassy and smart as Kenya's girl posse in this film, which is infinitely superior to all the synthetic, "You go, girlfriend" emanations from the mind of Terry McMillan.