How is it actors from Britain and the Commonwealth can play and sound like Americans but the opposite is so rarely true? Australian Simon Baker is the quintessential American in "Something New," where he plays a landscape architect and love object to Sanaa Lathan in this film of a reversal of the conventional racial divide. She is Kenya McQueen, a successful money manager at an IPO consultant firm in Los Angeles, looking for the man who will meet her needs for him to be sexy, mature, successful and black.
Instead, she finds Brian Kelly (Mr. Baker), grubbing in her back yard, and the film is the story of how she surmounts her own and her family's narrow views of race to find love and happiness with a white man. Although we can see the wheels turning in screenwriter Kriss Turner's head - "Let's write a film where it's the white guy who gets the knocks" - the film has enough perceptive moments to largely avoid the clichés of the genre; we believe that Kenya and Brian have some good chemistry going.
"Something New" does follow the standard structure of the genre, in which the initial heat between the leads is followed by an hour of film time in which the two are kept as far apart as possible, in this case by her brother Nelson (Donald Faison) and her mother Joyce (Alfre Woodard), who keep finding new obstacles for them to surmount. But if you think this film won't have a happy ending it's been too long since you went to the movies.
With the exception of Ms. Woodard, who is severely over the top, the acting is generally good enough to carry the film. Ms. Lathan is believable as a smart, fast-track businesswoman who can still show her insecurities when she has to stand up to a big client, and Mr. Baker has the open face, bright smile and softly spoken wit that make it easier for Ms. Lathan's character to fall for him. And first-time director Sanaa Hamri shows a good eye for screen composition, handling both intimate and large-scale scenes (a big cotillion) with panache. "Something New" may not be great art, but it's worth seeing as a good piece of work.