Our Family Wedding -- Film Review

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As a spectator sport, wedding planning is hardly Olympic material, and this nuptials-focused comedy doesn't up the entertainment factor to any significant degree. The path to the altar twists predictably through strained high jinks and more convincing sentiment in "Our Family Wedding," a slightly fractured fairy tale that places Latino and black characters center stage. But though the intended hilarity is forced and flat, there's a sweetness to the silliness that's likely to find a warm welcome when the film opens March 12.

Television stars in the cast also will be a draw, and perhaps their fans won't be disappointed by the movie's mild sitcom flavor. America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") and Lance Gross ("House of Payne") play bland, virtuous lovebirds Lucia and Marcus, returning to Los Angeles to break the news of their engagement to their families. She's worried her tradition-minded father (Carlos Mencia) won't be pleased with her plans to marry a black man and even more afraid to tell her parents that she's dropped out of law school. But before the gathering of the Ramirezes and the Boyds, the two patriarchs, Miguel and Brad (Forest Whitaker), meet under less-than-ideal circumstances, setting off what's meant to be the butting of heads by two alpha dogs, one long married and the other a divorced ladies' man.

To his credit, director and co-scripter Rick Famuyiwa ("The Wood," "Brown Sugar") doesn't turn the dads into clowns, but neither does he generate anything close to convincing conflict between the would-be Montagues and Capulets. Like the proceedings in general, Mencia and the inescapably soulful Whitaker are too tamped-down. In bit parts, Taye Diggs and Charlie Murphy provide mildly diverting shtick as friends of Brad, who is a sharp-dressing radio personality with an ultramodern dream house. He also is in denial about his feelings for his attorney and best friend (Regina King, feisty and wise), choosing to strut his stuff with women young enough to have attended school with Lucia. As his date at the meet-the-parents dinner, Shannyn Sossamon lends the scene an infusion of screwball that accentuates how carefully programmed -- and unfunny -- the rest of the characters are.

The two-week countdown to the wedding proceeds with the usual stops and starts and shopping trips as the increasingly unhappy couple adopt the mantra, "Our marriage, their wedding," and referee their families' game of matrimonial one-upmanship. A montage of hypothetical nightmare seating arrangements is the film's most inventive piece of comedy. Otherwise, the script doesn't balance drama and humor so much as veer between heartfelt moments and utter stupidity -- unless your idea of funny is an old-school Latina (Lupe Ontiveros) fainting at the sight of a black man in her house or a goat getting into someone's Viagra stash. The scenes of "pandemonium" are particularly unconvincing.

Although it's certain that all necessary lessons will be learned, every romantic issue resolved by story's end, the film rings truer in its quiet moments, especially those involving Whitaker's character and a few scenes concerning Lucia's mother (Diana Maria Riva) as she refuses to settle quietly into middle age.

Production designer Linda Burton's picture-perfect settings -- key among them Brad's mid-century spread and the Ramirezes' Victorian in Angelino Heights -- and costume designer Hope Hanafin's effusive color schemes underscore the story's fairy-tale aspects, and cinematographer Julio Macat casts the city in a mood-suiting aspirational golden glow.

Opens: Friday, March 12 (Fox)
Production: Fox Searchlight Pictures presents a Sneak Preview Entertainment/Edward Saxon production in association with Dune Entertainment
Cast: Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera, Carlos Mencia, Regina King, Lance Gross, Diana Maria Riva, Anjelah Johnson, Lupe Ontiveros, Charlie Murphy, Shannyn Sossamon, Taye Diggs
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Screenwriters: Wayne Conley, Malcolm Spellman, Rick Famuyiwa
Story by: Wayne Conley
Producers: Edward Saxon, Steven J. Wolfe
Director of photography: Julio Macat
Production designer: Linda Burton
Music: Transcenders
Costume designer: Hope Hanafin
Co-producer: Scott G. Hyman
Editor: Dirk Westervelt
Rated PG-13, 102 minutes
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