Review: ‘Jumping The Broom’

Mother of the bride.<br />
Sony Pictures

1. The tropes that "Jumping The Broom" dutifully trots out are so routine and familiar by now in a wedding movie that they're almost like musical numbers; we expect them the same way we expect Fred Astaire to break out into a dance. You can just tick them all off. Culture clash between the bride's family and the groom's? Two seemingly mismatched attendees falling for each other? The bride briefly running away and cancelling the wedding? A lifelong family secret revealed at the worst possible time? A toast by a family member that goes on too long and says things it shouldn't? All this movie is missing is a cute dog and someone accidentally destroying the cake. In a movie like this, it's not about the words, it's about the music; it's all about what the film brings to its predictable scenes, rather than how it subverts them. A film like "Jumping The Broom" works if you like its characters and everyone seems to be having a good time. "Jumping The Broom" handily clears that admittedly not particularly high bar.

2. This is the type of unironic film in which our bride Sabrina (Paula Patton) meets our groom by literally hitting him with her car. Fireworks commence. She's a lawyer who has "given up the cookies" -- she actually says this -- to too many men (this is the type of earnest movie in which the over/under on men she has "given the cookies" to is probably "three") and vows to wait until marriage with Jason (Laz Alonso), a banker sort who, unlike Sabrina's wealthy upbringing, is from a poor family from Brooklyn. They're engaged by the opening credits, and the movie's plot is entirely about what happens at their wedding. It's on Martha's Vineyard, so Sabrina's upper crust family must interact with Jason's rougher, messier clan. It's Meet The Buppies.

3. This movie is really about mothers, so it helps to have the mother of the bride played by Angela Bassett, a sensational actress who has had an awfully quiet decade. She takes a character who is chilly, removed and a control freak and makes her warm, sad and infinitely more compelling that the character ever was on the page. She loves her daughter, and her future son-in-law, but has little use for the overbearing, boorish family, particularly the mother of the groom, played with peculiar intensity by Loretta Devine. Devine plays Pam as a nightmarish cartoon of the overprotective African-American mother, funny, crass and mean when she needs to be, occasionally in ways that are so over the top it almost derails the movie. Both women are so powerful and committed to their roles that the movie can barely stand it and has no idea what to do with it; we're desperate for a "Heat" style faceoff in which these two women just verbally destroy each other to get it out of the way. Their performances are the best part of "Jumping The Broom," and it is to the fim's discredit that the rest is not quite strong enough to handle them both. They need their own movie.

4. The movie somehow juggles an entirely overstuffed cast of characters, all of whom get their little storylines to follow through, whether they're worthy of them or not. Plotlines about a bridesmaid's affair with the world's most overtly sexual chef, the father of the groom's financial issues and, particularly, a Big Family Secret about where Sabrina really came from are all unnecessary and distract from everything else going on. This is a big ole melodrama, full of "oh no!" moments that strain credibility; it was like they wanted to cram every possible plot point in, in case they never got to make another movie. This film needs a tighter belt. One upside of this expansiveness is that it allows everyone little moments to shine, giving plenty of yarn for everybody to play with. The two standouts are "Modern Family"'s Julie Bowen, as a goofy white wedding planner who keeps discovering fun little nuggets of info about black culture, and Mike Epps, as Jason's wayward uncle who's a bit of a screwup but is quietly the glue that keeps his whole family together.

5. There's a big-hearted, hey-guys-let's-put-on-a-play! spirit to "Jumping The Broom" that forgives its plotting shortcomings and its eyes-bigger-than-its-stomach ambition. This is just a sweet, overly emotional wedding movie in which pretty rich people have pretty rich people problems and find solace in love and God and family to overcome them. You will forget it within 20 minutes of watching it. (I'll confess having to scour press notes just to remember basic plot points, and I saw it less than 24 hours ago.) But it's pleasant and cheerful, and that sort of thing should be encouraged sometimes.

Grade: B-