Jumping the Broom

For being one of the most special, most love-filled events in a couple’s life, weddings have too often been played as a comedy of errors at the cineplex. From My Best Friend’s Wedding to Bride Wars (and almost everything in between), it seems that everything that can go wrong as a couple prepares to celebrate their nuptials, will… with slapstick and pratfalls galore.

Jumping the Broom could have very easily followed that formula, but instead it emerges as a more low-key, honest affair. There’s still plenty of comedy to be had, sure (after all, the scene-stealing Loretta Devine plays the mother of the groom), but every time the movie could dissolve into a silly, lampoonish mess, it doesn’t. Thank heavens.

Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) is the daughter of a couple that’s so rich they have a home on Martha’s Vineyard that almost puts the Kennedys to shame. Sabrina’s fiancé Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso) is from Brooklyn; his mom’s a postal worker, and his dad’s nowhere to be found. At first blush, Jumping the Broom is about the differences between these upper and lower class folks, but underneath it all, the movie is an enjoyable tale about the power of family.

The bride-to-be is slated to head off to China soon to pursue her legal career, so the wedding is rushed along ahead of schedule– so quickly that the Watsons (headed by mom Angela Bassett) never meets the groom’s family until the day of the rehearsal dinner. Yes, there are the requisite jokes from the Taylor clan about how big the house is, how fancy the cars are, and how many servants the Watsons employ, but a refreshingly scant amount of time is spent on them; we’ve heard most of them several times before.

The closer and closer we get to the wedding, the more characters we’re introduced to, and the more skeletons come jumping out of everyone’s closets. Mrs. Watson suspects her husband’s having an affair, everyone suspects the haste of the wedding has to do with Sabrina’s ‘delicate condition’, and no one’s quite sure what to make of Auntie Geneva (Valarie Pettiford), who graces the rehearsal dinner audience with a stirring rendition of “Sexual Healing” in a butt-length dress.

The whole movie is building to one huge twist, though, and that’s when the true depth of both families’ love is tested. It’s a moment that seems a little extreme at first, but the aftermath is handled so deftly that it’s easy to just go along with it.

Directed by first-timer Salim Akil (TV’s The Game), Jumping the Broom is as fresh and enjoyable as could be hoped. For a film that takes place almost entirely in and around the Vineyard mansion, it moves along really well and never feels like it’s stuck with its head in the sand. The screenplay by Elizabeth Hunter (The Fighting Temptations) and newcomer Arlene Gibbs is an intelligent, mature piece with just about the perfect amount of silliness tossed in.

The cast is among the better ensembles of the year so far, with Bassett and Devine, of course, leading the way. Fun supporting performances by Pettiford and also by Mike Epps as Jason’s uncle, current Dancing with the Stars contestant Romeo as his cousin, and Tasha Smith as his mom’s best friend help round out the festivities nicely.

There are plenty of wedding movies that seem like ‘something old’ before you even get halfway through (this week’s Something Borrowed for example), but Jumping the Broom makes it through just as fresh as a bride’s bouquet.

3.5/5 stars