REVIEW: In-Laws, and Caricatures, Clash in Jumping the Broom
Wedding season has arrived, taffeta skirts swishing, which means wedding movie season is making its stilted march close behind. Like a cannon shot of confetti in the eye, Jumping the Broom is first out of the gate, and its guest list is long. Visited upon this wedding day dramedy are in-law clashes, racial tension, class conflict, cold feet, maternity drama, inter-familial crack-ups and an extended debate about the relative couth of the electric slide. There's hardly room for a man and a woman to meet and fall in love, which explains those pretenses being dispatched within the first four minutes of the film.
We're off to the big tent event almost immediately, and the tone of a ritualized social comedy is set as squarely as Paula Patton's jaw. Patton plays Sabrina, a lawyer scrubbed of the warmth and personality the actress brought to her smaller role in Precious. Well-established professionally, Sabrina has accepted a transfer to China -- a choice that secures a proposal from her boyfriend of six months, Jason (Laz Alonso) -- but still uses nauseous baby talk to discuss her newfound chastity. The wedding is to take place at the Martha's Vineyard compound owned by her parents (Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell), and will provide the first opportunity for the in-laws to meet. Caricature confirms how that will turn out: Jason's mother, Pam (Loretta Devine), is a sass-talking postal worker from Brooklyn and Claudine is a seething Vineyard doyenne who eventually reveals that her people were never slaves -- they owned slaves.
The script, written by Elizabeth Hunter (The Fighting Temptations) and Arlene Gibbs, sets up broad cultural contrasts -- the working class black family trampled by the affected black elite -- complicated by confusion about the nature of class itself. Having set their minds, both Pam and Claudine behave badly, and both are right to be insulted by the poor behavior of the other; and what is class, in democratic times, but the place one's actions carve out in the world? But the promise of complication passes into incoherence, and instead of clarifying the class debate -- itself reduced to punch line strikes about food, dancing, clothing, language, and traditions like jumping the broom -- the common squabbling obscures its challenges. (One clumsy attempt to go deeper invokes conspicuous wealth and a tendency to lapse into French as "progress" for black people. "If you keep fighting it," Pam is told, "you'll be on the wrong side of history.")
Familial identity emerges as a dominant concern, with the bride herself targeted by a twist lifted from the Tyler Perry playbook. The writing clears the thickets of who drinks bellinis (they looked like mimosas to me, sniff) and who eats sweet potato pie when the focus returns to the couple, who find themselves defending their parents -- and by extension their upbringings -- and questioning each other. The modern focus on material opulence and the bride's princess kabuki has shadowed the original symbolic freight of a wedding: an occasion focused less on romantic narrative than the joining of two family lines. Jumping the Broom is both most retro and most relevant when it suggests the import of ignored familial protocols and the absence of accorded respect. Despite heavy-handed characterizations, Devine and Bassett make their stake in the union felt, and it's anything but superficial.
Director Salim Akil has a Nancy Meyers-esque grasp of affluence as eye candy, and the Eastern seaboard resort-wear palette of spanking whites and crisp green, blue, and khaki lights up the aspirational lobe. Beyond that, the scenes have a dreary, perfunctory feel, and the few laughs that make contact seem to have escaped from the air locker securing the film from any threat of natural circulation. Subplots involving an outré aunt (Valarie Pettiford), a gold-digging bridesmaid (Meagan Good), and an age-inappropriate dalliance (Romeo Miller and Tasha Smith) are meant to thread decorative detail into the head table's wedding doily. If anything they blend too well into Jumping the Broom's embellishments, each one distracting from the other and together blurring the pattern instead of bringing it forward.