They are so afraid we won’t get the point that this movie has our heroine literally letting down her hair, literally putting some color into her beige world, and — in case we still don’t get it — literally having her undernourished garden bloom. And yet, we go with it, thanks to a luminous performance by Sanaa Lathan, who has us rooting for her from the beginning.
She plays Kenya, a very successful investment banker who spends Valentine’s Day with her three best girlfriends — a judge, a doctor, and a lawyer — all wishing they could find love.
Kenya thinks she knows what she wants. She has a list. But love has a way of teaching us — often with great discomfort — that we don’t always know what we want. And ever since Jane Austen, romantic comedies are there to let us enjoy that lesson because it is happening to someone else.
Kenya agrees to go on a blind date, but she is so unsettled when she discovers that he is white she abruptly tells him it can’t work and walks out. Later, when she admires a friend’s garden, it turns out he was the landscape architect and she hires him to — metaphor alert — create a beautiful oasis in the neglected back yard of her new house.
Not only is Brian (Simon Baker) missing the attributes on Kenya’s list, he has a few items on her “no” list — like a dog, and a job where he doesn’t have to wear a tie. But he is kind and smart and considerate, and he knows how to make things bloom. He likes Kenya very, very much. And the her that he likes is a her she’d like to be more of the time — maybe.
Kenya has devoted all of her energy to being what her parents wanted her to be. When Brian urges her to remove her long, straight, glossy hair weave, her aristocratic and a bit pretentious mother wails, “But it was your crowning glory!” Kenya gently reminds her that it wasn’t really hers.
It was her mother’s opinion that strong, bright colors are for children, so everything in Kenya’s new house is beige. Soon Brian has her dipping a paint brush into deep, rich colors, and, of course, splashing it around a little, too.
Kenya wants to think of it as a fling, a momentary Lady Chatterly detour from the path of searching for the IBM (Ideal Black Man). That way, she does not have to think about what her parents or her friends think or about her list (which is a reflection of her parents and her friends). And if he’s just a fling, she does not have to think about her own prejudices. Until an IBM (Blair Underwood) shows up, a handsome and successful lawyer who wants commitment. He is everything she ever wanted. Isn’t he?
This is a glossy romantic comedy with an appealing heroine and some bright dialogue and the theme of racial differences, with the black family highly educated and affluent referring to the landscape architect as “the help” adds a little freshness to a traditional when-will-she-realize-he’s-her-true-love storyline. Another bonus is a superb soundtrack by former Prince-ites Wendy and Lisa. If the over-perfect devotion of the boyfriend makes it less of a date movie than a chick flick (he’s not allowed some sympathy for a bad day?), the sweetness of the relationship and the tartness of the wisecracks around it keep it, if not something new, at least, something welcome.
Parents should know that this movie has some strong sexual references for a PG-13 and some non-explicit sexual situations. Characters drink (scenes in a bar) and use some strong language. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a loving and devoted inter-racial relationship.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Kenya to be honest with herself about what she wanted.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Love and Basketball and Brown Sugar (also starring Lathan), Annie Hall, and Before Sunrise.