Film Reviews: Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Simon Baker and Sanaa Lathan decide to try ‘Something New.”
Something New\r\nStarring Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker. Directed by Sanaa Hamri. Written by Kriss Turner. Rated PG-13.\r\n\r\nImagine Me & You\r\nStarring Piper Perabo and Lena Headey. Written and directed by Ol Parker. Rated R.
Pair of Twos

In time for Valentine’s Day, two overprocessed romances for the price of one.


There are two romantic comedies opening in North Texas this weekend — one here and the other in Dallas. I’ve seen them both, and I swear they’re the same movie. Not many moviegoers will pick this up, because there won’t be much overlap between the audiences; Something New is about an American interracial couple, while Imagine Me & You is about a British lesbian couple. But that’s why I’m here, to point these things out.

Something New stars Sanaa Lathan as a lonely, overworked L.A. lawyer named Kenya McQueen — surely the filmmakers could have communicated the character’s strength and dignity with more subtlety. Anyway, Kenya spends her few off-hours commiserating with three other single professional African-American women, who wonder whether they should start looking beyond men who fit the mold of the I.B.M. — Ideal Black Man. To her surprise, Kenya falls in love with someone far outside the mold, a blond-haired, blue-eyed landscape architect named Brian (Simon Baker).

I’m reminded of the bit from the 2002 satirical film Undercover Brother, wherein the hero discovers that Terry McMillan’s writing a novel called How Stella Got Her White Man Back. The movie pretty much plays out like one of McMillan’s fluffy yarns, though to be fair, there aren’t many films that deal with this particular interracial pairing in any sort of depth, especially from the black woman’s point of view. Director Sanaa Hamri and screenwriter Kriss Turner deserve credit for staking out this territory.

If only they didn’t do it by trafficking in the same old romantic-comedy conventions. The woman who makes her living with her brains always has to fall for a guy who works with his hands, albeit one who’s industrious or ingenious or lucky enough to live comfortably off his labor. Kenya’s three girlfriends are interchangeable, and there isn’t anything surprising about the obstacles in the couple’s way to happiness.

Of course, in romantic comedies, chemistry between the lead actors can cover a multitude of sins. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Kenya’s supposed to feel free to cut loose around Brian, but Lathan seems every bit as uptight and frazzled after love takes hold as before. Baker, meanwhile, is an actor of considerable range, but he doesn’t have the kind of charisma to melt the ice off his leading lady.

The chemistry’s also wrong in Imagine Me & You, though in a different way. Piper Perabo plays Rachel, a buttoned-up Londoner who thinks of herself as straight until she meets Luce (Lena Headey), who’s a florist rather than a landscaper — filmmakers seem to have no other way of communicating characters’ earthiness than to show them running their hands through actual dirt. The problem here is Headey, who comes off as a stiff even though Luce is supposed to be the free-spirited half of the couple. Your eye’s drawn instead to the comic energy of Perabo, the cast’s only American. (It’s amusing to note that these two actresses also co-starred in The Cave, a totally ridiculous sci-fi movie that came out six months ago.)

Movie fans looking for a gay romance without Brokeback Mountain’s angst — or for those whose tastes run toward watching pretty girls make out instead of guys — will find this breezy, untroubled movie appealing. If anything, Imagine Me & You is too untroubled; when Rachel’s romance becomes public, none of her friends or family have any problem with her dating a woman. This is where Something New has the edge, as Kenya’s acquaintances react to her choice with believable degrees of skepticism and in some cases hostility.

Instead, the complication comes from the fact that Rachel has just married her longtime boyfriend Heck (Matthew Goode). The scenes between them are fairly perceptive about the issues that newlyweds face, and Goode gives the best performance here. Initially coming off as a Hugh Grant clone, he has a superb scene in Luce’s flower shop, where an unsuspecting Heck confides to Luce that his marriage is in trouble for reasons he can’t grasp, and all the insecurities leak out from under his façade. This is where Imagine Me & You has the edge, as its supporting actors match Perabo and Goode for spunk, chief among them Darren Boyd as Heck’s horndog best friend and Eva Birthistle as Luce’s Irish gal pal.

In the end, though, it’s still the same as Something New. Both movies have enough funny material to not waste your time. Both of them are fairly chaste — Imagine Me & You’s R rating is bogus given that it has no sex or nudity. Both of them climax with the main character’s seemingly ineffectual father (American Splendor’s Earl Billings as Kenya’s solid dad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Stewart Head as Rachel’s sozzled papa) sitting her down and telling her to follow her heart. In fact, both fathers use that same exact phrase! And both movies feel perfectly safe at all times, even as they tell us that love is all about taking risks. I guess that’s a sign of progress, but these movies still leave you wanting more.

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