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The battle lines are drawn far too quickly in the uptown-meets-downtown comedy Jumping the Broom. The film imagines that two African-American families meet for the first time at a wedding on Martha’s Vineyard where the contrast in class divisions is all the more acute. But the two matriarchs are at each other’s throats on first sight so any subtlety or nuances fly right out those French doors.
Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine are superb, distinguished actresses, yet each is asked to overdo every moment with permanent scowls and body language more suitable to Mortal Kombat. The film’s makers seem unduly anxious that nearly every line of dialogue and plot development drive home the class differences between the two families for fear that — well, what, that audiences won’t get it? The real class differences on display in Jumping the Broom are condescending Hollywood filmmakers who distrust an audiences’ intelligence.
The TriStar release may open with decent box-office numbers thanks to a talented, award-winning cast. Certainly the target audience of black Americans will contribute significantly to those numbers, but it’s hard to say how well this story, which could take place within any community, will crossover to larger audiences.
The comfortably bourgeois Watson family throws open the doors of its magnificent Martha’s Vineyard compound to the blue-collar, Brooklyn-based Taylors when daughter Sabrina (Precious’ Paula Patton) rushes into an engagement to Wall Street up-and-comer Jason (Laz Alonso). It’s rushed because she will soon take a job in China. And then there’s her unusual personal quirk — after a love life of some promiscuity, she has vowed to God that she now will “save her cookies” until after her marriage to Mr. Right.
In another movie, that vow and this couple might make interesting protagonists. But in this movie, they are almost dress extras at the main event, the fight between Sabrina’s Old Money mom Claudine (Bassett) and Jason’s postal worker mom, who might as well be called “Going Postal” Pam (Devine).
The families have never met, which doesn’t prevent Claudine from fantasizing, perhaps even wishing, “They could be awful.” Nor does it prevent Pam from uttering a blatant insult the moment she meets Claudine and her husband Greg (Brian Stokes Mitchell). She takes it back right away, but ceases to do so as further and graver insults spill from her mouth.
Perhaps betraying their own snobbery, Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs’ screenplay insists that their urban working-class characters are uncouth social disasters, except for Jason, of course, who is the only member of his family with a higher education. Yes, the writers do endow their rich, well-educated characters with a few flaws, but these owe more to the need for family secrets to spill out at a dramatically opportune moments.
Promising subplots never fully develop as the matriarchal battle so consumes the movie. These include a bridesmaid (Meagan Good) with a penchant for picking wrong men who hooks up with the wedding banquet chef (Gary Dourdan) and a university student (Romeo Miller) with an eye for Pam’s much older best friend (Tasha Smith). Not to mention the one live-wire in the Watson family, Aunt Geneva (Valarie Pettiford), who can belt out songs on cue and has a shady enough past to deserve her own movie.
But this movie, directed without much flair by television director Salim Akil, is content to indulge in repetitive old-girl fights, which make Jason look pretty weak for failing to protect his fiancé and her family from his dangerously unstable mother. Of course, the movie contrives all sorts of reasons for the lack of civility on Pam’s part but it’s a thankless role for Devine, almost topped by Bassett’s anal-retentive sourpuss. The movie’s attempt to redeem these women at the fade out is thoroughly unconvincing: These character flaws appear to be the habits of a lifetime.
A few moments to shine are handed to comedian DeRay Davis, playing Jason’s cousin, and another comedian-actor, Mike Epps, as Jason’s uncle.
Nova Scotia plays Martha’s Vineyard quite ably while the production values suit a classy wedding with views in every direction.
Opens: May 6 (TriStar)
Production companies: TriStar Pictures in association with Stage 6 Films presents a T.D. Jakes/Our Stories Films production
Cast: Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Loretta Devine, Meagan Good, Tasha Smith, Julie Bowen, DeRay Davis, Valarie Pettiford, Mike Epps. Brian Stokes Mitchell
Director: Salim Akil
Screenwriter: Elizabeth Hunter, Arlene Gibbs
Story by: Elizabeth Hunter
Producer: T.D. Jakes, Curtis Wallace, Tracey E. Edmonds, Elizabeth Hunter, Glendon Palmer, Michael Mahoney
Director of photography: Anastas Michos
Production designer: Doug McCullough
Music: Edward Shearmur
Costume designer: Martha Curry
Editor: Terilyn A. Shropshire
Rated PG-13, 113 minutes
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