With Tyler Perry spending his precious time driving his most popular character into the ground to sustain a hold on African-American entertainment dollars, burgeoning movie mogul T.D. Jakes ("Not Easily Broken") has selected a softer approach for multiplex dominance, taking on the trials of family and marriage with the charming feature, "Jumping the Broom."
Hurriedly working into a stable union, Jason (Laz Alonso) is ready to marry Sabrina (Paula Patton, frantic but endearing), an eager bride-to-be tickled to finally find a functional relationship. Taking the event to Martha's Vineyard and the home of Sabrina's affluent family, Jason reveals some reluctance introducing his postal worker mother, Mrs. Taylor (Loretta Devine), and vocal Brooklyn clan (including Mike Epps and Tasha Smith) to his judgmental, sophisticated in-laws, Mrs. (Angela Bassett) and Mr. Watson (Brian Stokes Mitchell), and their assorted relatives and friends (including Romeo Miller and Meagan Good). As the weekend festivities commence, the families find difficulty bonding, with Mrs. Taylor furious about her initial exclusion, while Mrs. Watson deals with her husband's possible infidelity and her troublemaker of a sister, Geneva (a wonderful Valarie Pettiford).
Making his feature film debut, director Salim Akil sets an early champagne mood for "Jumping the Broom" that disarms. Though the family feud antics eventually take command of the movie, the first act of the picture sets a tone of reflection and anticipation, set to warm soundtrack cues and inviting cinematography, easing the viewer into lives of the Watsons and Taylors, gently tugging at all the cultural difference that expand once the action settles in at Martha's Vineyard. Bracing for the worst, I was elated to find Akil interested in establishing romance and personality before soaking the picture in abrasive comedy and melodrama, creating an invitation with the opening moments of the picture instead flicking lit matches at the screen to make a swift impression.
The screenplay by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs contains a vast amount of supporting characters that all receive some form of attention throughout the film. The bustle of bodies creates an authentic community for Akil to organize, even extending to the help, with randy chefs (Gary Dourdan) and ethnically curious wedding planners (Julie Bowen) getting in on the action. It's amusing to see the chaos of a wedding weekend in motion, but the script bites off more than it can chew, indulging nearly every actor with some form of subplot that takes attention away from the saga of Jason and Sabrina. The performances are jovial and emotional, some even effectively comical, and the sheer number of faces on display successfully articulates ideas on class warfare and familial jealousy. However, the distractions pile up quickly, with Akil often overwhelmed, losing his initial effortlessness to keep tabs on everyone, regardless of their overall importance to the plot. The script is overstuffed and intermittently random, watering down the drama as story unfolds.
When focused on the main players, "Jumping the Broom" reveals a surprising sensitivity with the characters, pitching moment broadly but effectively, offering the gifted cast something substantial to work with. It's a film concerned with matters of the heart and home, imparting the benefits of communication and patience, wrapped up in a wedding day disaster formula that's easy to digest. "Jumping the Broom" is rough around the edges with a routine of race jokes and chest-thumping confrontations, but it keeps a humanity about it that's appealing and respectful.
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