Here's the most surprising thing about Salim Akil's Jumping the Broom: It's not half bad.
Put it this way: There are probably a dozen romantic comedies a year that try to do what Jumping the Broom does, about characters who are black and characters who are white and everything in between - and Jumping the Broom not only holds its own but manages to acquit itself reasonably well.
As someone who sees a lot of these movies - aimed at a variety of ethnic groups - I will admit to being pleasantly surprised by Jumping the Broom. Whether it's the travesties of Tyler Perry or something as seemingly mainstream as last year's Our Family Wedding, these films tend to be cartoonish, broad or grossly slapsticky.
Instead, this romantic comedy is actually romantic, mildly funny and built on a set of strong performances from an ensemble cast of great breadth. The script (by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs) - and Akil's restrained (to the point of prettiness) direction - focus on the humanity of the characters, rather than punching out a joke every couple of minutes.
The film is about the impending marriage between Sabrina (Paula Patton) and Jason (Laz Alonso), who meet cute when she accidentally hits him with her car in Manhattan. She's just made a pledge not to sleep with any more men until she gets married when she rams him - and before you know it, it's six months later and they're hopelessly in love.
One catch: She's just landed a job that will take her to China two months hence. So he offers to go with her, popping the question and triggering the major events of the movie.
Neither of their mothers is happy. Her mother (Angela Bassett) comes from wealth, and is married to an investment banker (Brian Stokes Mitchell) - and is scandalized that the planning time for the wedding has been so brief. His mother (Loretta Devine), a blue-collar Brooklyn widow who works at the post office, is more than a little upset that Jason hasn't brought Sabrina's family over the bridge from Manhattan to meet her - and that she'll be meeting her future in-laws at the wedding weekend itself.
That wedding is a massive shindig at Sabrina's family's Kennedy-like compound on Martha's Vineyard. The two mothers get off on the wrong foot right from the start and things go downhill from there.
The situations themselves are hardly extraordinary: hurt feelings, dredged-up secrets, misunderstandings, crushed expectations, perceived slights. And yet the writers never resort to caricature with the action. Even the subplots - having to do with a Dickensian secret about Sabrina's parents - don't go overboard on the melodrama. There are big reveals, big emotions - but again, it's all played with a natural quality that keeps it credible.
Admittedly, the writing is neither particularly witty nor outstandingly funny. The jokes are mild - so mild that the usually insufferable Mike Epps (as Jason's uncle) is actually tolerable.
That's the problem with romantic comedies today: Either they're not romantic or they're not funny - or both. The same thing is true of this week's Something Borrowed, another film that engages without being particularly amusing.
Oh well - Jumping the Broom held my attention and never made me groan. The acting is solid and the cast is talented enough to keep you watching and, occasionally, chuckling.
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