REVIEW: Jumping the Broom [2011]

Score: 3/10 | ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 112 minutes | Release Date: May 6th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Salim Akil
Writer(s): Elizabeth Hunter & Arlene Gibbs / Elizabeth Hunter (story)

“Do they even let black folk in China?”

A tradition held by many different cultures throughout the world, ‘jumping the broom’ has very specific roots in the African American community. Used often by Welsh Gypsies as the customary way to show who will rule the household—the person jumping the highest winning—Salim Akil’s film’s purposes are quite different. Since marriage between slaves wasn’t acknowledged in the 1800s, those wishing to devote their lives to one another did so with a broom. Witnessed by their friends, jumping was akin to saying “I do” without the need of legal approval from their oppressors. One would think the black community would want to steer clear of activities holding the stigma of such horrible times, but Alex Haley’s Roots brought the tradition back.

So, Jumping the Broom is basically rooted in slavery. An entire film based on an argument between families to remember a time where their ancestors were enslaved, tortured, and looked upon as second-class citizens. It’s weird, right? Just because a piece of art as highly revered as “Roots” used the tradition contextually doesn’t quite make it something you’d want to bring back into normal rotation at weddings. Why would you want an obscure action a part of your ceremony for guests to ask about its inclusion? The answer speaking to the fact “we were once slaves” can’t be very comfortable cocktail-hour conversation. I guess I understand the desire to never forget one’s roots, but I’d hope most would want that callback to be something less of a downer.

The writers of this film don’t seem to care, though. Besides the intrinsic slavery-connotations, they also include a single white actress to star as a clueless, quasi-racist constantly asking about things like skin color differentiation within the family. Julie Bowen’s Amy is a horrible character who talks under her breath with an unnecessary curiosity that pretty much posits white people as inconsiderate buffoons. Granted, many are, but you can’t complain about Hollywood using people of color in throwaway, token roles and then do the same thing in reverse. I could care less since she’s one sad cliché in a mountain of them, but I do think it warrants mention. The fact our main characters are black and all the help—save the chef, played by Gary Dourdan—are white is actually kind of funny. Turning tropes on their heads can work if done right.

Tastelessness aside, though, this comedy simply isn’t very funny—at least not intentionally. The script is clumsily written and earns laughs for its absurdity. Centered around a girl who isn’t sure she’ll ever find a guy worth giving her ‘cookies’ to, the film somehow makes a good actress in Paula Patton come off as amateurish. Her Sabrina Watson is inept and naïve to the world outside her aristocratic Martha’s Vineyard estate. She is a hugger, constantly holds a too wide smile, and gets all grumpy when someone starts belittling someone else. A spoiled brat to the nth degree, it’s actually hard to imagine her soul mate Jason (Laz Alonso) would ever want to marry her. He pulled himself out of the ‘ghetto’—I love how movies like this call normal city living the ghetto—and built a successful career. He isn’t in this coupling for the hope of riches down the line. Jason truly is in love and I can’t understand why.

Beginning horribly with a “Five Incredible Months Later” caption transporting us from the duo’s fateful car crash meeting to the night of proposal, their exit from the opera alludes to the fact his friends would laugh at him for going to such a cultural event and his words actually make us think he hated it anyway. She breaks the news that she has an offer to take a job in China and his dejected response is as good as a break-up speech. The film is five minutes old and already it appears these two kids from different sides of the track have nothing in common and are now kaput. But wait, a trio of violins starts playing and a pianist begins to sing. Jason’s lukewarm reception to the news was all a ruse! How cute! He had this whole evening planned to propose—possibly the worst handled one I’ve ever seen.

The inelegance continues as plot threads are thrown left and right. Jason has been hiding his family from Sabrina, her father may or may not be having an affair, his wife may or may not already know, the cool aunt arrives out of the blue, and the groom’s mother brings a couple of uninvited guests. Jumping the Broom becomes a familial “Odd Couple” pitting the boisterous Taylors against the prim and proper Watsons. It’s blue collar versus white collar, both sides lauding their supposed superiority over the other. But where shenanigans should ensue lay only viciousness and deceit. Secrets are uncovered and used to hurt, guilt becomes a central character, and the claws come out to risk ruining what should be a joyous occasion. Only petty quarrels can result once you make a wedding into more than its couple’s special day.

Loretta Devine does her best to bring some laughs as the groom’s mother. It’s too bad she’s just a rude, vindictive, and selfish woman who should get a punch in the face from Sabrina even though I hated her character too. Alonso is good, trying his best to wade through the vitriol to discover he wants nothing more than to get married; Dourdan is charming in his semi-sleazebag looking to bed maid of honor Meagan Good; DeRay Davis is obnoxious at every turn, throwing temper tantrums like they’re going out of style and proving to be the most selfish of all; and Mike Epps entertains as he sticks to the fringes to poke fun at both sides. Sabrina’s family is also unappealing with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Angela Bassett hidden under so much artifice that a joke about her ancestors owning slaves becomes sad rather than funny—the reality of the statement unfortunate.

Thankfully Tasha Smith is allowed to roam free and playfully bat away the advances of a twenty-year old Yale student in Romeo’s Sebastian. Her Shonda is used perfectly, never overpowering the story or becoming lost in the excess of it all. She’s having fun and I wish I could say that about the rest. Unfortunately the paper-thin stakes populated by loathsome characters is anything but. No one deserves to be happy or earn forgiveness, yet we all know both will end up happening in the end. A broom will be jumped and riffs will be mended, there just aren’t enough laughs to warrant its inherent inanity.

[1] Sabrina (Paula Patton, left) and Jason (Laz Alonso) become engaged in TriStar Pictures’ JUMPING THE BROOM. PHOTO BY: Nicole Rivelli © 2010 TriStar Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[2] (l to r) Malcolm (DeRay Davis) hangs out with Blythe (Meagan Good) and Sabrina (Paula Patton) in TriStar Pictures’ comedy JUMPING THE BROOM. Photo by: Jonathan Wenk
[3] (Bottom – l to r) Brian Stokes Mitchel, Laz Alonso, Paula Patton and Loretta Devine. (Top – l to r) DeRay Davis, Romeo Miller and Mike Epps in TriStar Pictures’ comedy JUMPING THE BROOM. Photo by: Jonathan Wenk

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