Friday, February 17, 2006

Movie Rec

I saw the best movie last night. If you're looking for a romantic comedy that is actually pretty light on the comedy, I highly recommend Something New.

The story centers around Kenya McQueen, a thirty-ish African American woman who has risen to the top of her profession (she's about to make partner in her prestigious accounting firm) but sees herself as a total failure in the love department. She and her fellow professionally-minded friends lament their inability to find their IBMs - that's Ideal Black Man - to complete their ideal of the perfect life, including marriage and family. Kenya makes this task even more difficult with her workaholic tendencies and her arm-long list of must-have qualities any prospective mate has to be equipped with in order to rank with her.

And top of that list is blackness. Her ideal man must be African American. Non negotiable point.

Which puts her in a most difficult spot when she meets Brian Kelly on a blind date. Actually, it's more of a blind five-minute brush-off when Kenya immediately dismisses Brian because he's white. I'd even say she was horrified to see that Brian was white. He'd have had better odds with her if he'd had two heads, as long as they were black heads.

Except, Brian shows up again in the form of a landscape architect recommended to Kenya to make a paradise out of her jungle of a backyard. Try as she might to resist him (and how she manages to resist the amazingly hunky Simon Baker for as long as she does is so beyond my comprehension), Kenya finds herself falling for the Non-Black Guy. Because always, no matter what else Brian proves to be - sexy, free-spirited, warm, caring, a guy who'll greet her at the end of a hard day with a glass of wine served next to a tinkling fountain he built himself - Kenya can't manage to get over the fact that the color of Brian's skin is wrong. She tells him it's not prejudice, it's preference. Like preferring jazz over classical or Italian food over Chinese. Sure, she might love the moo shoo pork, but she knows the lasagna is always a safe bet.

Despite Kenya's reluctance, though, things heat up between her and Brian, and we are treated to the hardships involved in having a go at an inter-racial relationship. When things prove more difficult than either of them expected, and when Kenya's imaginary IBM appears not so much as an impossibility but in the form of Blair Underwood, Kenya finds herself asking some tough questions about the dreams and desires she'd put so much faith in.

What's so great about this film is how much I felt for Kenya. She wants so much to meet the right guy and fall in love, so when she meets the wrong guy and falls in love anyway, it's easy to sympathize with her pain and confusion. Then, when she actually gets what she's always thought she wanted yet still is so very unhappy, you both want to shake her and hug her at the same time. Add to her troubles a meddling mother who holds very specific expectations for her daughter, a younger brother who goes through girls like a revolving door but cannot imagine what Kenya would see in a white guy, and a handful of girlfriends who think a few months of enjoying life on the other side of the street is fine for awhile but nothing that should be permanent, and Kenya is more confused than ever. Her heart is telling her one thing, but everything else in her life is telling her something completely different.

I do admit that, at first, I found Kenya hard to like. She was so very uptight and so unwilling to move outside her self-imposed boundaries. In fact, I almost found it hard to see what Brian seemed to like about her, what drove him to keep pushing past her very vocal "not interested". But as the story progressed and Kenya loosened up, it was like watching a tree come to life after a long winter. She'd kept so much of herself tightly wrapped in her business suits she'd had no room to experience the world around her.

Brian came to represent that free-er side of Kenya. In one scene, Kenya and Mark - the Blair Underwood, IBM character - are sitting side by side, working on their laptops, in what Kenya had always imagined as the perfect life. And the entire time, you can just see how far from ideal this has become for her, now that she's unleashed that whole other side of herself.

This movie is billed as a romantic comedy, but truthfully, I didn't find much funny in it. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, and characters such as Kenya's little brother and her snarky friends zing out the one liner jokes that definitely make you chuckle. Add in the reverse inter-racial jokes about dating white guys and it's not like the movie is a sob-fest or anything. But there is a seriousness about the movie that shoves it as far down the rom com spectrum as it is possible to be from movies like When Harry Met Sally or Must Love Dogs (a horrible film btw, since I'm offering up opinions). First of all, Kenya is far too rigid as a character to go for the funny. She's not the witty, bantering type of girl - she's the straight guy to her friends' comic antics, the one who sets up the jokes then looks slightly confused by the punch line. Imagine Meg Ryan's Sally and Kenya is the polar opposite.

Also, the subject matter is impossible to treat lightly without moving into farce - multiplying the white guy jokes and shoving a whole lot of tasteless stereotypes into the story. Thankfully, the writer, Kriss Turner, chose to give us a story that doesn't take that easy road, instead really forcing viewers to get inside Kenya's head and understand the difficulty of her situation.

Best of all, this movie made me think. My growing up years included the idea that I would one day meet a man and fall in love. And this man was always, in my mind, a white man. I had honestly never considered any other option. But what would have happened had I met an African American man and fallen in love with him? Are there men out there I never gave a second thought about who might actually have been my soul mates, those whom I dismissed out of hand simply for being not-white? No disrespect to the current hubby, but is it possible I could have been just as happy - or even happier - with someone I never even considered because he didn't fit my image of who I believed I'm supposed to be with? All of this is what Kenya goes through, and it's an eye-opener.

Really. It's a wonderful love story. I cried and not because I was manipulated into doing so. I cried because I cared about Kenya and what happened to her. I wanted her to be happy.

1 comment:

MaryF said...

Oh, I'm looking forward to this movie! Thanks for the recommendation!