Film Review: Jumping the Broom

Despite its raft of clichés and scripted thinness, this ain’t nothin’ but a party—and highly enjoyable.

It's the battle of the Mom-zillas as posh Mrs. Claudine Watson of Martha’s Vineyard (Angela Bassett) faces off with earthy post-office employee Mrs. Pam Taylor of Brooklyn (Loretta Devine), as their respective kids, Sabrina (Paula Patton) and Jason (Laz Alonso), prepare to wed. Serious attitude reigns as family and friends descend on Cape Cod for the nuptials, with every kind of baggage one can imagine.

The basic material and direction in Jumping the Broom are neither all that fresh nor funny, but the talented, really gorgeous cast goes a long way toward making it a highly watchable, pretty damned good time. All the actors appear to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, and their enthusiasm is infectious. It's one of the handsomest studio releases seen in a while, with Anastas Michos' sumptuous photography, Doug McCullough's elegant production design and Martha Curry's terrific costumes (including a cocktail number for Bassett that's the best movie dress of the year, with Devine's wedding ensemble running a close second) creating a mouth-watering visual treat for the audience. That (overextended) Taylor family really knows how to live and, in these hard-pressed times, Jumping the Broom is like those posh Deco screwball comedies which afforded Depression moviegoers a respite from harsh reality.

A real Grand Hotel conglomeration of characters is assembled here, and if there are maybe a few too many of them, it's great anyway to see so many black performers happily working in such an attractive ambiance. Bassett looks fabulous, a great clotheshorse, and does her specialty—intelligent intensity dealing with a wandering, unavailable mate—with her usual spirited élan. Devine is very funny, slamming down her window gate at the post office to have a personal conversation (something so much more amusing onscreen than in real life, as we can all attest), and has a lovely, quiet moment, looking through old photos while a potent Al Green song plays that recalls the great moment in The Grapes of Wrath when Jane Darwell sifted through her memories to the strains of "Red River Valley." And, can one say here and now, how wonderful it is to hear black music really serving the dramatic needs of black actors, rather than merely providing the background for bland, all-white casts in need of some kind of aural punch. (It's also salutary to see a dizzy white wedding planner being run off her heels by Claudine after all those decades of uniformed African-Americans in the service of rich Caucasians.) However tiresome their scripted sniping becomes, the two lead actresses remain highly watchable and moving throughout.

Bride and groom Patton and Alonso, as is so often the case in wedding films, are the least interesting characters, having little more to do than be attractive and harried. Luckily, excruciatingly pretty Meagan Good, as a friend of Sabrina, and Gary Dourdan as a wedding chef she hooks up with provide a lot of juice and make the sexiest screen couple of the season. Valarie Pettiford, as the bride's aunt, has her own hilarious comment about Sabrina's decision to remain chaste before the honeymoon with her steamy rendition of Marvin Gaye's “Sexual Healing” at the rehearsal dinner.

Brian Stokes Mitchell, one of the glories of the Broadway musical, is affable but rather wasted as Sabrina's tycoon dad, and I wish he'd been somehow given a chance to sing as well. (Filmmakers often need to loosen up and really use the found assets they have on the set.) Two stand-up comedians, DeRay Davis and Mike Epps, lend brief flavor as Jason's envious cousin and raunchy uncle. And Romeo Miller is endearing as a young college buck who would seriously like to turn Pam's unwilling girlfriend (Tasha Smith) into a cougar.