Like Bridesmaids, Jumping the Broom begins with the woman finding herself in bed with the wrong man, this time praying for help in finding Mr. Right, whom she promptly hits with her car. In Hollywood vernacular, they call this a “meet cute,” but in this case, maybe it should be called a “meet emergency room.” This guy is so right that his main concern is for the woman who hit him. “Breathe,” he tells her from where he lies on the pavement in front of her car. Can this story end up anywhere other than love and marriage?
Jumping the Broom is a traditional tale of wedding day jitters, family secrets, and parental neurosis. It’s also a story about social classes in conflict. One African-American family is—or seems to be—well-to-do, and the other is working-class. It’s uptown vs. downtown. Electric Slide vs. River Dance. And any tension in the movie comes from this clash more than from the formulaic ups and downs of the intended bride and groom.
“Jason was sent to me. He’s my soulmate,” says Sabrina, the bride-to-be. Any time you hear a character say this in the first ten minutes of the movie, you know that bond will be put to the test. In fact, her mother replies, “That’s so sweet. But a soulmate can test you.” The trouble is—you see all this movie’s conflicts coming from a mile away. Yes, the actors are good-looking and pleasant to watch, but too much is too predictable in a movie that might have worked better as something made-for-TV.
Sabrina, played by Paula Patton, is a relentless optimist, despite the fact that, until she meets Jason, her own romantic life has been a series of one-night-stands, and her parents’ marriage seems to be in self-destruct mode. Patton’s 100-watt smile makes you reach for the dimmer switch. Laz Alonso plays Jason as a man of total tolerance. He may get frustrated at times, but his love for Sabrina is unshakeable. The only problem in his life is his mother, played by Loretta Devine, whose acid smile is the engine that drives this movie. To say she has an anger problem is like saying New Orleans, during Katrina, was a little windy. She and Sabrina’s mother, played by Angela Bassett, go head-to-head, bringing the only real life to this movie.
There’s a dinner scene where Jason’s mother reminds Sabrina’s mother of their shared history of slavery. Sabrina’s mother replies that, actually, her family owned slaves. It’s an interesting clash that the moviemakers don’t allow to fully develop. If the writers and director had allowed this edge to come out more often, it would have been a more interesting movie, but they never run the risk of losing the movie’s essential cheerfulness, which is about as relentless as Sabrina’s smile.
I found myself wishing the brooding DeRay Davis, who plays Jason’s jealous friend, had been allowed more leeway. And Gary Dourdan gets everything there is to get out of his role as a chef who uses food to win the heart of Sabrina’s best friend. Loretta Devine plays the evil mother-in-law like a heat-seeking missile. You cringe at what she’s about to say and do. But the stand-out performance is Angela Bassett’s. The rest of the actors play one emotion at a time; she plays three or more at once. When she tells her daughter that a soulmate can test you, we see the whole history of her marriage in her face. Bassett has never had a role that takes the full measure of her talent, which is considerable.
The writing is by-the-numbers, with characters explaining their feelings to each other. To be fair, there’s not much you can do in a story when the subject is a wedding, not in a Hollywood story, anyway. Is there ever any doubt that the couple’s love will pull them through and that the wedding will take place? And when the resolution requires a character to change, is there ever any doubt that when asked, she’ll do what must be done, for the good of the wedding (and the story)? Wouldn’t it be nice if all the troublemakers in our lives were so reasonable?