(2011)3Mark DemingIf you're looking for a situation that makes lots of folks uncomfortable, you just can't beat a wedding -- a family reunion usually brings together people who don't always get along, and when you combine two families who are suddenly expected to act chummy even though they barely know one another, and add an open bar, you can practically guarantee something will go wrong somewhere. The new comedy Jumping the Broom is built around the premise of two oil-and-water families being brought together by a marriage, and just like a real wedding, the fun is often undercut by just how uncomfortable things get as the big day plays itself out.
In Jumping the Broom, Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) is a beautiful lawyer who has had some really bad luck with men, and after an unpleasant one-night stand, she pledges to God that she'll change her ways if he'll bring her a good man. Sure enough, Sabrina soon meets Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso), a successful businessman who is handsome, bright, charming, and willing to wait to sleep with her. Six months later, the two are about to be married, but the marriage may not survive the wedding. The two families come from very different worlds -- Sabrina's parents (Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell) are wealthy, privileged, and refined, and live on a large estate on Martha's Vineyard. Jason, meanwhile, worked his way up from a working-class background in Brooklyn, and his mother, Pam (Loretta Devine), is a proudly unpretentious woman who works at the post office. Jason was hesitant about having his mother meet the Taylors, and it doesn't take long to see why -- Pam clearly isn't impressed by the Watsons' wealth and bourgeois attitudes, and she makes it obvious she doesn't think Sabrina is worthy of her baby boy. Mrs. Watson, on the other hand, doesn't care for Pam's barely disguised contempt and is offended that she brought three additional guests without asking -- her best friend, Shonda (Tasha Smith), Jason's uncle Willie Earl (Mike Epps), and his cousin Malcom (DeRay Davis). As Sabrina and Jason try to keep their families from quarrelling, they each have problems of their own to deal with: Malcom is angry that Jason has chosen someone else to be his best man, Sabrina tries to keep the peace between her mom and her free-spirited aunt Geneva (Valarie Pettiford), and when Pam discovers a long-held family secret as she overhears a heated discussion between Geneva and her sister, she sees an opportunity to break up the wedding.
Jumping the Broom was directed by Salim Akil, making his big-screen debut after establishing himself in episodic television, while Elizabeth Hunter, who penned the original story and co-wrote the screenplay, also has a background in TV, and their history tends to show in the final product. The movie feels like a fusion of soap opera and situation comedy, only with glossier production values, and it's a collection of predictable set pieces and one-note characters. Within a minute of the two mothers being introduced into the story, you know they're not going to like each other, and unfortunately Akil and Hunter haven't given the audience much reason to like them either; both characters come off as self-righteous and one-dimensional, and while Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine do their best to give them some shadings and bring them to life, they're both far more unsympathetic than one imagines they were ever intended to be. The bride and groom don't fare much better -- Paula Patton's Sabrina seems by turns naïve and utterly thoughtless, though she's pretty and charming enough to nearly compensate, and it's doubtful anyone really wanted to hear Laz Alonso's Jason explain how masturbation has allowed him to avoid premarital sex. The movie builds most of its conflict around the cultural clash between upper-class and lower-class African-American families, and both sides are presented in a fashion stereotypical enough that this sometimes plays like a remake of The Beverly Hillbillies directed by Tyler Perry. In all fairness, Akil and Hunter do a bit better by their characters than Perry, and they save the most obvious racial stereotypes for the movie's only significant white character, a well-meaning but utterly clueless wedding planner played by Julie Bowen. The film does manage to give most of the supporting characters a chance to shine, and the film's most enjoyable moments come from Mike Epps as the streetwise but perceptive Willie Earl, Tasha Smith as the good-natured Shonda, and Valarie Pettiford as the vivacious Aunt Geneva. And if the romance between one of Sabrina's friends and a catering chef seems shoehorned into the plot, Meagan Good and Gary Dourdan have more romantic chemistry than anyone else in the picture, including the folks getting married. The trouble with Jumping the Broom is it often seems a bit too much like a real wedding -- too many people who don't get along, couples that don't make sense together, families struggling not to seem dysfunctional, and by the end of the evening you just want to go home and take off your shoes.