Two families and all their problems collide to form new problems at their respective son and daughter’s wedding in Jumping the Broom, another one of this May’s wedding movies.
That’s three in two weeks — four if you count The Hanger Part II coming out later this month. Apparently May must have taffeta.
Sabrina (Paula Patton) hits Jason (Laz Alonso) with her car and because this is a romantic comedy he doesn’t sue her but instead falls deeply in love. When she gets a job offer in China, she asks him to put up with the long-distance relationship and he says no — instead asking her to marry him. She says yes and they have to quickly plan a wedding. And thus do we have the sort-of believable reason why Sabrina’s wealthy, Martha’s Vineyard-estate-owning mom Claudine (Angela Bassett) and dad (Brian Stokes Mitchell) haven’t yet met Jason’s Brooklyn-based mom Pam (Loretta Devine), a postal worker, and the rest of his family: uncle Willie Earl (Mike Epps), cousin Malcolm (DeRay Davis) and Shonda (Tasha Smith), Pam’s best friend.
The wedding, to be held at Sabrina’s family’s estate, can therefore be the scene for all sorts of slights and misunderstandings. Pam arrives put out that the only communication she’s had with Sabrina and her family is a text asking her to bring baby pictures. Claudine is upset because she’s afraid Jason’s family isn’t, well, isn’t something — the right kind of people, good enough for her daughter. And here we get to the culture clash part of the movie, which might more accurately be described as a class clash, with the working-class Taylors offended by the implied insult of the Watsons’ upper-class airs. Or maybe the real battle is between the mothers —it’s Pam and Claudine who seem to have the biggest problem with each other. Or, maybe the big problem they have is letting go of their respective children and agreeing to hereafter share those children with unfamiliar families. And then there are the tensions between mother and child: Claudine has a secret she’s never told Sabrina; Pam can’t seem to accept that Jason is a grown man.
Perhaps it’s because the mothers are the focal point of the craziness that their parts are the most cartoony. Pam is overbearing, Claudine is very “well! I never!” and their actions are by far the most separated from those of real people (insulting the rich in a wedding toast, swearing in French, etc.). On Sabrina’s side, also add tarty aunt Geneva (Valarie Pettiford) to the list of caricatures — she’s all suggestive songs and short dresses.
It’s unfortunate that this movie — and culture-clash movies like it (last year’s Our Family Wedding) — has to go to the place of hysterics, because underneath is some interesting stuff about how families change when a child gets married and how hard it can be to bring together the traditions of two different families. We don’t see a story unfold here as much as we see a situation build to a fight and then get repaired with a bunch of speech-making. And that much by-the-numbers storytelling doesn’t give you much of a chance to appreciate performances. Everyone here seemed fine but, yanked from one fight to another, we don’t get a chance to appreciate, for example, the likeability of Smith or the surprising heart of Epps’ performance. Like the dads in Our Family Wedding, Devine and Bassett are the real stars —we never really get to know the bride or groom.
And for all its faults, the movie isn’t, thankfully, as big and broad with its drama and comedy as it could have been. There is some deftness when it comes to the handling of intra-racial prejudices about money and ancestry. Since race and money are rarely addressed in big Hollywood movies except as big Issue-Movie Issues, it’s nice to see a story where these facets of a person’s life are approached in more subtle ways. For example, should the couple jump the broom? For Pam it’s a family tradition, for Claudine it isn’t. It means different things to each woman and may or may not mean anything to the bride and groom. More of this and less of two women saying snippy things would have made for a more substantial drama. C
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and language. Directed by Salim Akil and written by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs, Jumping the Broom is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed by TriStar.