Everybody knows that Crash --- that ponderous examination of L.A. race relations --- pulled a major upset to beat out BrokebackMountain for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. What few people know, however, is that Crash wasn't the only film to tackle the thorny issue of race this year; nor was it, in my opinion, the best.
Something New, released on DVD May 16, tells the story of Kenya McQueen (the gorgeous SanaaLathan), a young professional whose career is on the rise, but whose love life has taken a backseat to her work. Her friends complain that her standards are too high; that she must give up on finding the IBM (ideal black man) of her dreams. Then she meets Brian (Simon Baker), who she immediately dismisses simply because he's white. After a disastrous first meeting, she runs into him again at a friend's engagement party; he's her friend's landscape architect. Coincidentally, Kenya is in need of a landscape architect herself. No points for guessing how this story ends.
But that's not the point. Far from the typical brainless romantic comedy, this film actually has some things to say. Kenya and Brian's relationship faces opposition from both friends and family, and in addition forces them to confront their own latent prejudices. There are scenes of touching intimacy when they're allowed to be alone together, giving them a bubble of protection from the world. Still, the hostility Brian faces from Kenya's well-meaning friends, as well as the subtle racism that Kenya faces at her job, puts incredible strain on their romance. It culminates in a heated supermarket argument between the two lovers late in the film that is heartbreaking in its honesty.
But whereas Crash was heavy-handed and didactic (its ultimate conclusion was delivered with much more wit, if not subtlety, by one of my favorite songs from the Broadway musical Avenue Q, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist"), Something New never forgets the most important job of any good film: to entertain. Sweet, romantic, funny, and with some intelligent thought behind it, the film is a damn near perfect combination of heart and brains that will appeal to anyone who's ever fallen for someone the rest of the world didn't approve of.
--- Adam Lubitow