Low expectations don't mean low quality. Like Tyler Perry's recent Madea's Big Happy Family, Jumping the Broom—a class-conscious brawl where a postal worker's son marries a manor-born daughter—is smarter than expected, even if it's too ragged to truly resonate. After a successful career in television, first-time film director Salim Akil handles serious moments with sitcom conventionality, but shows a sensitivity to characters that's rare in a family-clash comedy. Battling Thor at the box office is a losing fight for opening weekend, but expect long legs as the film finds a comfortable home on home-viewing platforms.
Paula Patton plays Sabrina, a successful beauty who vows celibacy after a humiliating one night stand in the hope that her abstinence will attract a man interested in more than just her body. Almost immediately, she finds one in Jason (Laz Alonso), and after a whirlwind five-month courtship they get engaged. They immediately begin planning the wedding for Sabrina's family manor on Martha's Vineyard, but when Jason's blue-collar relatives show up for the ceremony, the couple find themselves caught in the middle of an all-out brawl, as Jason's mother (Loretta Devine) and Sabrina's mother (Angela Bassett) square off over the details of the ceremony.
The big problem with almost all of the recent films about the friction between friends, family and other loved ones is that there's never any outrage about how awful people behave towards one another. Thankfully - gloriously - the bad behavior in Jumping the Broom never escapes mention, and there's a reassuring sort of verisimilitude when, say, Mike Epps (Next Day Air) tells Loretta Devine that what she did in this scene or that one was just plain wrong. (The fact that of all people a born goof like Epps is the voice of reason only reinforces the egregiousness of some of the behavior on display.)
Otherwise, however, the film is written so unevenly that its virtues feel more accidental than deliberate. The opening scene where Patton's character swears off sex and then hits Jason with her car is almost disastrously broad, suggesting the film is going to be a sub-moronic Katherine Heigl-style rom-com. But the introduction of Sabrina's family manages to be fairly understated, and the drama that ultimately plays out between her mother, father and aunt is almost all handled with such delicacy and thankful avoidance of cliché that you desperately want that same brush to paint the rest of the film's scenes. Meanwhile, mundane subplots, such as a special pie Devine's character brings for Jason, are brought up with suggestive emphasis, but subsequently discarded without mention, and the purpose of at least one or two characters (in particular Meagan Good's) is never established, addressed, or paid off.
Additionally, Akil and his screenwriters admirably venture into far murkier waters than are typically explored in films like this one - including sordid family histories and serious financial ruin - but they unfortunately chicken out in favor of "we all family"-style wish fulfillment. Particularly given the massive revelations that emerge, there are at least three or four very important conversations that probably needed to happen en route to any sort of genuinely happy ending, but they never do. And ultimately, it's this inconsistency of tone and execution makes Jumping the Broom fall short of being fully satisfying: You have to admire the filmmakers' leap of faith in tackling so much ambitious material, but unlike their feuding families, they can't magically make it all work together in the end.
Distributor: Sony TriStar
Cast: Angela Bassett, Laz Alonso, Paula Patton, Mike Epps, Loretta Devine
Director: Salim Akil
Screenwriters: Elizabeth Hunter, Arlene Gibbs
Producers: T.D. Jakes, Curtis Wallace, Tracey E. Edmonds, Glendon Palmer, Elizabeth Hunter, Michael Mahoney
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content.
Running time: 113 min.
Release date: May 6, 2011