Embarrassed at the awkward conclusion of a one-night stand, filthy rich African-American corporate lawyer Sabrina Watson vows to "save my cookies for the man I marry" if God will just shoo Mr. Wrong out of her hotel room. Like right away.
Pfft … Sabrina (Paula Patton) is alone. Sure enough though, next scene along comes Mr. Right, a tuxedo-wearing Wall Street trader named Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso). Eventually, the happy couple are back in Sabrina's oceanside mansion in Martha's Vineyard, where they are surrounded by busy servants, marriage planners and a mother (Angela Bassett) who breaks into Parisian French when upset.
As Billy Idol once observed, it's a nice day for a white wedding.
Except Jumping the Broom is a black family comedy, albeit with a couple of twists. Neither of the quarrelsome matriarchs is a male comedian in a fat suit. And half the wedding party, the Watsons, talk like they're Yankee elite - relatives of John Kerry maybe.
Whereas the Taylors are downtown Brooklyn: "You better get off your high horse, 'cause baby, you black!" Mrs. Taylor (Loretta Devine), an easily riled postal worker, reminds her millionaire counterpart.
" Je suis …," Mrs. Watson fumes, summoning her charging Parisian mare.
The fighting-family wedding comedy has its share of winning moments. The primary bout is a doozy. Devine ( Boston Public) can do sass, wreaking havoc in a wedding line by lifting an eyebrow. In a previous film, Bassett stared down Ike Turner. Here again she's a flinty, compelling heroine, easily managing the contortions of a melodramatic plot.
Jumping the Broom also benefits from a great soundtrack (Al Green, Aretha, El DeBarge, Curtis Mayfield), along with the antic playing of an energetic secondary cast - carping cousins, philandering uncles and an aunt (Broadway pro Valarie Pettiford) who does a hot-just-like-an-oven, rehearsal night rendition of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing.
If anything, there are too many characters here. And all the scripture readings and prayers to God seem as appropriate as a bible in a motel night table. Still, the film is an enjoyable, broadly played genre exercise. For all its klutziness, it's way more fun than, say, the wedding movies Monster-in-Law or Steve Martin's Father of the Bride.
What prevents the film from being a real crowd-pleaser, the Philadelphia Story that it clearly wants to be, are the marrying couple. Sabrina and Jason are as pretty and unauthentic as the wax figures on a wedding cake. Actress Paula Patton was wonderful in Precious. But she's got almost nothing to do here. No scenes that stick. We never believe she's a corporate lawyer or that he's a v.p. at Goldman Sachs.
Sabrina and Jason are sympathetic mannequins more than characters. They're nice to look at, but when the film is over, their faces are impossible to remember.
Speaking of pleasant viewing, Jumping the Broom makes Martha's Vineyard look like maritime heaven - blue skies scrubbed free of clouds, bone-white beaches, noble weather-beaten wooden homes. Let's hope the province of Nova Scotia got some glossy slides taken for tourist brochures. Aside from a few shots in Manhattan, the movie was filmed in Blue Rocks, not far from Lunenburg, home of the Bluenose that sails forever on the reverse side of Canadian dimes.
Jumping the Broom
- Directed by Salim Akil
- Written by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs
- Starring Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso and Loretta Devine
- Classification: PG
Special to The Globe and Mail