The cinema has the remarkable power to make the mundane and taken-for-granted surprising and new. It’s written into the very DNA of the form: over the course of eighty or one-hundred and eighty minutes, you’ll see recognizable characters get into and out of trouble. The best we can hope for, as an audience, is for the characters to be interesting and for the situation to be new (to us, at least).
So, while Salim Akil’s debut, “Jumping the Broom” does not reinvent the romantic comedy, it does offer a novel story that is richly acted and beautifully rendered.
The film opens at an almost disorienting speed, with Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton), on the other end of (anoth er?) one-night stand and a big dollop of remorse on her heart, vowing to God to lay off the laying until she finds her husband. Literally seconds later, she runs into him … with her car! But he takes it in stride, as best one can take being hit by a slow-moving car in stride, that is, and minutes later for the audience (“five incredible months later” for the film) Jason Taylor is on his knee outside the Met proposing.
The meat of the story; however, revolves around the wedding of Sabrina and Jason (Laz Alfonso) at the Watson family’s palatial estate on Martha’s Vineyard. The hitch, of course, is that Jason’s well-meaning but overbearing mother, Pam (played masterfully by Loretta Devine), hasn’t yet met Sabrina or her family. Sabrina’s mother, Clawdeen (Angela Basset), on the other hand, is a no-nonsense, vaguely-Creole aristocrat with a sense of propriety only surpassed by the stiffness of her upper lip. The two families mix like fire and ice and suddenly the marriage is in jeopardy.
Many of the film’s best moments occur on the periphery of this main conflict as the supporting cast explores that universal truth we all learned from “Wedding Crashers”: nothing gets people’s motors running like a wedding.
Meagan Good is Blythe, Sabrina’s best friend and bridesmaid who plays the stereotype of the Black woman whose standards are way too high: Ivy League (not on scholarship!), seven-figure income, etc. In a welcome turn, she falls for the hunky chef (Gary Dourdan), and they share some tender and comic moments that accentuate the central romance nicely.
The Taylor family includes Jason’s uncle, Willie Earl (Mike Epps), whose timing is so perfect you could set your comedy watch to it; now-distant childhood friend, Malcolm (DeRay Davis), who is haplessly hitting on every woman in sight while ruing the closeness he has lost with Jason and the widened economic gap between them; and Pam’s co-worker, Shonda (Tasha Smith), who is getting her middle-aged kicks from the amorous attentions of the barely-legal cousin of the bride, Sebastian (Romeo Miller).
The richness of these side stories is almost worth the price of the ticket. This is only off-set by the unfortunate taken-for-grantedness of colorism within the film. Even as the film jokes about it — “I usually don’t talk to dark-skinned girls, but I’ll make an exception for you” says Malcolm to bridesmaid, Lauren, played by actress-model Tenika Davis, before getting a drink in his face — Lauren still has fewer lines compared to comic relief white lady wedding planner (played by “Modern Family” star, Julie Bowen).
The class conflict between the two families is one of the most frank representations of an un-monolithic African-American experience anywhere on celluloid. The element of Christianity (the film is produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes) is present, but treated with such a gentle humor and humanism that is also all-too-rare in American film culture.
And credit a team of television veterans, including screenwriters Arlene Gibbs and Elizabeth Hunter and director Salim Akil for crafting this perfectly-paced comedy of manners with comic set-pieces that never disappoint, including a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” that arrives at just the right moment. For audiences used to monochromatic stories, “Jumping the Broom” might be too much to handle, but for anyone looking for subtlety, warmth and tender romance peppered in with fine dramatic-comic performances from veterans of the stage and screen, this is a film not to be missed.
Rating: 4/5 Stars