Monday, September 5, 2011

Jumping the Broom

Directed by Salim Akil.
2011. Rated PG-13, 112 minutes.
Paula Patton
Laz Alonso
Angela Bassett
Loretta Devine
Mike Epps
Meagan Good
Tasha Smith
Julie Bowen
Valerie Pettiford
DeRay Davis
Gary Doudan
Romeo Miller
Brian Stokes Mitchell

And the y lived happily ever after. That Jumping the Broom ends this way should not be a surprise. It’s a romantic comedy named after a centuries old wedding tradition. You should already know how it ends. Our main character is food of saying “the details make the person.” So it is in the details where JtB is made or broken. That main character is Sabrina (Patton). Tired of dealing with no-good men, she asks God to send her a soul mate and vows abstinence until He does. Don’t worry, she immediately bumps into Jason (Alonso), who is apparently “the one.” Skip ahead a bit to after what we’re told is “five incredible months” he proposes, she says yes and then the movie starts.

The nuptials are to be held at the mansion of Sabrina’s rich parents on Martha’s Vineyard. Evidently, they’ve been rich a very long time. There is one little detail that makes this movie go. Sabrina has never met Jason’s family. They’re quite the opposite of Sabrina’s folks. Jason’s family are working class people from Brooklyn. Nevermind that no one of them speaks with anything that sounds even remotely like a New York accent. Just know that they are on their way to the Vineyard fro the wedding and Mom, the widowed Mrs. Taylor (Devine) is none too pleased that she’s never met her future daughter-in-law. Rich people interacting with poor people and lots of melodrama ensues.

Details keep flying at us. How well we deal with them will determine whether or not we enjoy it. They come fast and most of them help keep this a fairly light affair, moving us quickly through the near two hour runtime. The problem is after a while there’s so much going on the movie feels cluttered. Most of these strands are amusing but not always necessary. It begins to feel like the wedding episode of a daytime soap opera. Among those things that need to be cut entirely is the language switches. From time to time our wealthy characters will suddenly start speaking French. It’s presented like its just something sophisticated rich folks do. Maybe, but it comes across as strange and certainly isn’t needed to provide us with a clear distinction between the classes. The rest of the movie does a perfectly fine job establishing this.

Still, there is another detail that could stand some fleshing out. It’s really just one line of dialogue, but its drawn from history and transcends the movie. However, it may do so in a disasterous manner. In a spiteful retort to Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Watson (Bassett) proclaims her family once owned slaves. Yes, there really were blacks that owned slaves. Most often, they purchased them as a way to get/keep them from under the thumb of white slaveowners whom, as we know, were harsh taskmasters to understate it by a couple thousands miles. To those not aware of this historical tidbit, Bassett’s line goes far beyond the villainy its trying to assign to her character. It reeks of self-hatred and shows a level of elitism even greater than I think the filmmakers are going for. A thirty second explanation would balance this. Those is charge should never assume their audience is stupid. By the same token they also should assume knowledge of any particular historic fact. This is especially true when the much more widely known and still practiced tradition that the movie is named after is explained in full.

That entire previous paragraph might be nit-picking. The more important issues to our enjoyment are the crowded feeling it gives us, as I’ve already mentioned, and the bombardment of clichés we’re hit with. The things that happen in most rom-coms happen here. In addition, it’s also heavily influenced by the Tyler Perry canon. Thankfully, it’s not as loud or outlandish as those films, but the formula of secular humor punctuated by Christian heedings is clearly visible. To this end, it should be noted that Evangelist Bishop T. D. Jakes, who’s made several movies himself, has a small role and is one of the producers.

There are some good things here. As I’ve said, much of it is amusing. It doesn’t often cause uproarious laughter, but there are some chuckles to be had. Our cast is game. The continuous sparring between Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine is enjoyable melodrama. Leads Patton and Alonso acquit themselves well enough and fans of Romeo can rejoice he’s a slightly better actor than his dad (Master P). Admittedly, that last one isn’t saying much but roll with it. In all, it adds up to one big giant package of “meh.”

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