Somewhere within Something New lies a smart, incisive character study about an accomplished, no-nonsense, upper-middle-class black woman who occupies a rarified realm where privilege and comfort co-exist uncomfortably with the ugly realities of racism and sexism. It's just too bad that this half-realized concept is tethered to an utterly unconvincing, warmed-over interracial romance rooted more in Harlequin fantasy than social realism.

At least the filmmakers have found the ideal lead in the consistently underutilized Sanaa Lathan, a bright, gutsy actress who specializes in playing accomplished upper-class professionals. Lathan is once again typecast to perfection as a successful workaholic banker who is set up on a blind date with handsome white landscape architect Simon Baker. Lathan initially treats Baker with the kind of high-minded disdain that would send most suitors fleeing in horror, but Baker proves enormously, if implausibly, persistent, and eventually manages to break through Lathan's steely defenses. But his trials are far from over, as Lathan's circle of friends and family continues to eye Baker with suspicion bordering on contempt.

Advertisement

Baker is essentially playing the Sidney Poitier role: a smart, sensitive dreamboat who's so patient and kind-hearted that only the most hateful racist could possibly object to him dating anyone he'd like. Where Lathan is sometimes brittle and defensive to the point of being unsympathetic, especially in early scenes, Baker is so perfect that he borders on superhuman. Lathan's fine lead performance ensures that there's plenty of complexity and depth behind her character's purposeful strut, and her relationship with her parents is drawn with humor and warmth, but Baker is stuck playing an impossible masculine ideal: hunky yet sensitive, blue-collar yet college-educated and wise. Something New sets out to dramatize just how little society's attitudes toward interracial relationships have changed over the past few decades, but instead ends up documenting just how little the interracial-romance message movie has evolved since the clumsy days of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.