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Something New is a love story about a woman so busy finding excuses for not falling in love, so busy worrying about what others will think, that she never considers what she thinks. The result for the character is that it takes her forever to recognize the real thing when it comes along. The result for audiences is a gem of a movie that illustrates how the best points are often made with the least hyperbole.

True, the movie tackles an important social and cultural issue: interracial dating in a culture where color-blindness is still a far-off goal. But the film neither tries to remake society nor calls into question long-held cultural stereotypes and prejudices. Its aim is much narrower, and more personal. Can a person, it asks, move past the issue of color when it comes to matters of the heart?

Sanaa Lathan is Kenya McQueen, a career-obsessed financial consultant who notices that she's on the fast track alone. At the urging of friends, she agrees to meet Brian (Simon Baker), a handsome, absolutely wonderful guy.

In many ways, Brian is the antithesis of Kenya: He takes things as they come, she's a manic planner. He's brash and exuberant, she's quiet and reserved. He's a dog lover with a passion for the outdoors, she hates dogs and is content to spend the day in the office.

It doesn't take long for Kenya to realize that Brian is one fine catch. Except that she's black, and he's white. And Kenya sees too many roadblocks ahead: Roadblocks, she's convinced, that will prove insurmountable.

She listens to family members and friends who warn her to steer clear and pushes Brian away. It's almost as if she welcomes her loneliness and unhappiness; at least she can count on it.

First-time director Sanaa Hamri wisely keeps the focus on Kenya and Simon, rarely letting the movie broaden to grapple in depth with the controversial subject matter its plot suggests. There are no big speeches, no suggestions that the real battle may be between the two lovers and a racist world.

By keeping the focus narrow, Hamri makes the film intimate and approachable. She also gets charming performances from Baker and, especially, Latham, who makes Kenya's neuroses and emotional shortcomings believable while allowing her to shine. It's easy to understand what Brian sees in her, and why he's determined that she won't "think" herself out of their relationship.

The supporting cast includes Alfre Woodard as Kenya's high-society mother, who sees Brian as a step down for her daughter (whether that is because he's white or because he's a landscaper is unclear), and Blair Underwood as the shallow, but successful, businessman who's everything society insists Kenya should want.

Something New doesn't live up to its title; it is the sort of intimate love story that Hollywood has been churning out for years. It does offer that most pleasant and valuable of viewing experiences: A message movie in which story and character come first. Rather than preaching or berating, it enlightens and entertains. And that makes all the difference.

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Something New (Focus Features) Starring Sanaa Lathan, Simon Baker. Directed by Sanaa Hamri. Rated PG-13. Time 100 minutes.

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