Saturday, May 14, 2011

Love is All They Need?: JUMPING THE BROOM

Jumping the Broom is the kind of warm comic drama in which personalities can clash and long-held secrets can be exposed but all is ultimately forgiven for the sake of a wedding. In this case, the bride’s family is a wealthy family with a mansion on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard while the groom comes straight out of Brooklyn. They’re madly in love but – surprise, surprise – their families aren’t.

The bride (Paula Patton) and groom (Laz Alonso) recede into the background of their own story. There’s the typical last minute fighting and cold feet and declarations of love for the two of them to act out, but the movie is smart to find much reason to showcase the eccentric families. With a movie this comfortably predictable, it’s a pleasure to find that the ensemble is stuffed with enjoyable performers. They’re given far too little to do, but they fill out the gaps in the humor and pathos far better than you’d expect.

Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine are the dueling matriarchs presiding over all sorts of wedding related silliness while the wedding’s guests include the likes of Mike Epps (a reliable source of humor), DeRay Davis, Tasha Smith, Romeo, Megan Good, and Valarie Pettiford. All the while, the uptight wedding planner (Julie Bowen) finds herself in a perpetual state of cultural confusion. This is a mild farce with characters sent careening into each other in the typical fashion of both wedding movies and culture clash movies in which big social events are cause for people to find new love and, just maybe, new ways to think about others.

The movie is broad and drawn in quick strokes. It’s stretched thin, rambling across any number of themes (race, economics, religion, sexuality) without much depth given over to any one of them. I suppose it would be too much to ask for such a feather-light comedy to be a serious commentary on the state of modern America, and that’s not what I was expecting. But the nods towards deeper subjects in the screenplay by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs serve to hobble a picture that’s otherwise blandly sweet and not exactly nuanced, making it feel like it’s playing it a bit safe.

There’s a simple likability to Jumping the Broom but neither the comedy nor the families’ dramas are pushed far enough. It's not altogether unagreeable, it’s just slightly less than good. The director, Salim Akil, is a veteran sitcom director and it shows. I don’t have anything against the form; I enjoy good sitcom work, but I wouldn’t want to watch one in a theater. Akil, drawing on that experience, capably directs the traffic involved with having such a large cast and he keeps the movie moving along with a nice, bright polish. I didn’t exactly have a good time but I didn’t have a bad one either, and by the time the credits rolled I found myself entirely unaffected by the experience.

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