Don't Just Sweep Aside 'Jumping the Broom'
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
The pitch and premise of "Jumping the Broom" are familiar: A wealthy family's daughter (Paula Patton) is engaged to a man (Laz Alonso) whose family is less fortunate. Convening on the grounds of the bride's family estate the weekend of the wedding, sparks fly. The difference of "Jumping the Broom" is in the details -- a mostly African-American cast and a light dose of spirituality and Christianity courtesy of screenwriters Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs and producer (and megachurch leader) T.D. Jakes.
Whether you find lines like "I prayed on it .. and God answered!" quietly comforting or uncomfortably disquieting will, of course, depend on your personal preference, but there's no denying that the threads of Christianity in this film are applied more subtly -- and more consistently -- than in Tyler Perry's similarly flavored filmography. (For example, in Perry's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," Kimberly Elise pitches her wheelchair-bound husband headfirst into a bathtub; if that's in the Bible, I must have skipped that section of Corinthians.)More on religious movies | More on Angela Bassett
That aside, "Jumping the Broom" is a perfectly acceptable rom-com, with a few nice performances. Patton is goofily charming, Alonso handsomely stalwart. Angela Bassett, as Patton's mom, is imperious yet vulnerable, while Loretta Devine, as Alonso's overprotective mom, gets to play more of a fully developed character than she has in a while. The supporting cast members are not only good, but each gets nicely filled-out subplots, whether it's materialistic Meagan Good falling for humble-but-hunky chef Gary Dourdan or Tasha Smith resisting the overtures of the much-younger Romeo.
And, along the way, "Jumping the Broom" evokes fairly familiar concerns for anyone who's been married, or even in a long-term relationship: How much do you hold on to tradition and the family you came from, and how much do you break away and create a new family of your own? Helping immeasurably is the fact that Alonso and Patton seem like an actual couple -- not perfect, but, rather, challenged and rising to those challenges.
The plot follows fairly predictable lines: There will be public revelations of private melodramas, and the question of if the wedding should even happen, but Salim Akil's direction keeps things moving briskly, and the film's discussion of the African-American community not as a single unit but, rather, as divided by class is a refreshing change. Yes, the melodrama can come on a little fast and furious ("Are you my mother?") but that's all part and parcel to the modern wedding-based romantic comedy to begin with.
There's well-timed comedy here, like Patton and Alonso's exchange during a heated dinner conversation: "Did you just kick me under the table twice?" "Not in a row, baby ..." There are also discussions of African-American traditions and concerns from slavery and marriage traditions ("Jumping the Broom" refers to the ritual that slaves, who could not be married, conducted to seal their love as a life bond) to whether or not to do the Electric Slide at wedding receptions. None of this feels like the leaden tedium of public-service announcements, though, and all of it informs who the characters are and what they want. The movie may benefit from being viewed in the context of other, similar comedies that merge the secular and the sacred, but the marriage of those two things in the film never feels foolish or forced. "Jumping the Broom" may not get too high off the ground, but it does, as they say, stick the landing, and that's good enough.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.