The pleasant but insubstantial comedy Jumping the Broom — produced by Dallas-based preacher T.D. Jakes, who also has a small part in the film — is a culture clash comedy about two African-American families squaring off during a weekend-long wedding on Martha’s Vineyard.
Sabrina (Paula Patton) is the well-to-do bride, whose uptight mother (Angela Bassett) barks orders at her household staff and occasionally lapses into highfalutin’ French. Jason (Laz Alonso) is the groom, an investment banker from a working-class Brooklyn family. His mother (Loretta Devine) is a postal worker, overprotective and easily slighted, determined that the wedding be a traditional African-American one.
Both families, of course, have secrets that are revealed in melodramatic, not-entirely-convincing fashion. Inevitably, the bonds between Sabrina and Jason are tested, only to be finally strengthened.
In other words, you’ve seen this sort of wedding-from-hell movie many times before, and director Salim Akil and writers Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs do themselves no favors by giving the two leads so little to do. As Bassett and Devine try to out-diva one another, the lovely Patton and the handsome Alonso recede into the background of their own movie — they’re a Barbie and Ken doll set that the rest of the cast gets to toy with.
Sabrina is supposed to be a morally complicated figure (she’s taken a vow of chastity prior to the wedding, after having slept with too many men in her youth), and Jason has his own share of intriguing hang-ups about his family. Yet neither character seems fully animated, and there’s nothing at stake between them; of course, they’re going to end up together and help their warring families find common ground.
Still, there’s something to be said for a movie that attempts to reckon with class and cultural differences among contemporary African-Americans (when Spike Lee tried to do this, two-plus decades ago in the brazen School Daze, he was widely derided by critics and audiences alike). And the filmmakers are at least smart enough to fill out the story with any number of sweet subplots (current Dancing With the Stars contestant Romeo plays a Yale student who has the hots for Tasha Smith’s Shonda, the much-older best friend of Jason’s mother), and funny supporting players (the wonderful Mike Epps, as Jason’s wisecracking uncle, can do no wrong).
Hardly groundbreaking or even especially memorable, but Jumping the Broom (the title refers to a wedding tradition) nonetheless leaves a smile on your face.
Cast: Paula Patton, Mike Epps, Angela Bassett, Laz Alonso, Loretta Devine.
Director: Salim Akil.
Screenwriters: Elizabeth Hunter, Arlene Gibbs.
Producers: Tracey E. Edmonds, Elizabeth Hunter, T.D. Jakes, Michael Mahoney, Glendon Palmer, Curtis Wallace.
A Screen Gems release. Running time: 108 minutes. Adult content, strong language. Playing at area theaters.