"Jumping the Broom" suggests what it might look like if Nancy Meyers directed a Tyler Perry movie.
It's got all the glossy production values of a Meyers film like "Something's Gotta Give" or "It's Complicated": expensive clothes and expansive houses in the elegantly upscale setting of Martha's Vineyard. And the ensemble cast, featuring Paula Patton, Laz Alonso and Meagan Good, offers plenty of eye candy.
But it also has all the lowbrow humor and high melodrama of a Perry movie, the broad characters and earnest religious fervor, and the same sorts of jarring tonal shifts between those two extremes.
The third act alone will make your head spin, with shocking revelations about family history and identity that it would probably take the average person years to sort through in therapy. In "Jumping the Broom," the forgiveness comes as quickly as the bombshell. And then it's time to hit the dance floor.
The first feature from director Salim Akil, a veteran of the TV series "Girlfriends," presents the culture clashes that occur between two black families — one old-moneyed, the other blue-collared — when they're about to be united through marriage.
Patton plays Sabrina Watson, a New York corporate lawyer who's enjoyed a privileged upbringing. She meets cute with a Wall Street up-and-comer, Alonso's Jason Taylor, when she hits him with her car. Instantly, they're smitten and in no time, they're engaged. But plot contrivances in the script from Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs keep their respective families from meeting until the day before the wedding — a classy affair beneath a tent at the Watsons' New England compound.
Angela Bassett has some withering moments as Sabrina's mother, Claudine. You know she's cultured because she likes to drop French phrases throughout her speech and she's placed wasabi-covered peanuts in the guests' gift baskets. Loretta Devine gets some laughs as Jason's mother, Pam. You know she's down to Earth because she's a Brooklyn postal worker who's appalled that they're not serving greens at the rehearsal dinner. These two formidable actresses deserve better characterization and dialogue than they get here; it would be exciting to see how they could tear into each other with smarter, stronger material.
One of the first things they fight about is the broom — the one Pam wants her son and Sabrina to jump over at their wedding to carry on a proud tradition that dates to a time in America when slaves weren't allowed to marry. Claudine and her husband (Brian Stokes Mitchell) didn't jump the broom when they got married; they believe their family is too sophisticated for that, so Sabrina and Jason don't need to do it, either.
But because the Bishop T.D. Jakes is one of the producers (and has a small role as the pastor performing the ceremony, of course), and because the film gives great weight to traditional values, you know that those in favor of broom-jumping are the good guys who will probably win out in the end. First, though, there's plenty of flirting and bickering among the couple's respective relatives and friends. And every once in a while, Julie Bowen from "Modern Family," as the wedding planner and lone white character, pops up and awkwardly tries to fit in by asking questions like: "Is sunscreen something that you would use?"
Bowen is likable and has strong-enough timing to make these moments less cringe-inducing than they might sound. It's the rest of the movie that'll probably make you cringe.
"Jumping the Broom," a TriStar Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Running time: 108 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.