One of these days, some pompous cultural studies major type will get outraged while wondering why so many directors of movies with African-American ensemble casts are compared to Tyler Perry. Is this racist perspective beyond the awareness of film critics? Can we not help ourselves? Are the similarities between Perry imitators and the man himself anything other than race and the business-related matter of targeting the same prospective audience?
In this particular instance, Jumping the Broom joins in the dubious, Perry-honored tradition of painting black women in broad caricature with the crudest of brushes. This isn’t a Tyler Perry movie, but you’d be forgiven for assuming as much from the debut effort of director Salim Akils, who operates almost exclusively through melodramatic guises and tosses so much conflict (everything from the revelation of sensational family secrets to ridiculously physical scuffles) into the third act that the inevitably happy resolution is, to be blunt, disgusting in its saccharine sweetness. The movie’s title references the cultural tradition of slaves that didn’t have the right to marry; among other things, the act of jumping the broom is one of many things that two opposite sides of a wedding party make time to quarrel about. Unfortunately, making time to watch this film would be a complete mistake on an audience’s part.
To make matters more insufferable, Jumping the Broom is another movie that reinforces the notion that women are nothing unless they are married women. As it happens, Paula Patton (Sabrina Watson) and Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso) are about to get hitched after a whirlwind six-month courtship. They meet shortly after Paula wakes up after a one-night stand and prays to God that she’ll save her “cookies,” if only He will send her Mr. Right. Almost immediately, she hits Jason, a young Wall Street whippersnapper, with her car and (what the hell) they start dating. They’re both highly successful in their careers and happy to be in love, but since they aren’t doing it, they want to get married right away so they, uh, can totally do it.
Naturally, the weekend of the wedding has arrived, and the families haven’t met each other until now because the resultant fireworks make for a much wackier story when the wedding party meets up at Martha’s Vineyard. You see, the Watsons are uptown, and the Taylors are downtown. So technically, this is not a matter of race but class, although racial issues do arise when the Watsons admit that they once actually owned slaves. There’s also the matter of the Watson family being much lighter in skin tone than the Taylors, but whatever. At first, nobody seems to have a problem with any of this except for the bride and groom’s respective mothers, whose ill-will towards each other soon grows contagious.
And so, Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine meet once again for the first time since Waiting to Exhale as warring matriarchs on separate sides of a wedding party. This unfortunate young couple just wants to get married and fuck (they really have no idea, do they?), but Mrs. Watson (Bassett) and Mrs. Taylor (Devine) just won’t have it. Mrs. Watson is one of the New England, old-money types who selectively (and quite poorly) speaks French, and Mrs. Taylor is just your average-day, working-class, crazy-ass postal worker (seriously). These ladies are two more examples of the maligned, superficial, one-note characters that Dustin recently pointed out about mothers in film, and their perspectives couldn’t be more clearly overdone. The Taylor family hails from working-class Brooklyn and is keen to preserve the traditional values of their black ancestors, while the Watsons own a massive mansion in Martha’s Vineyard and couldn’t care less about crude traditions and believe that the young couple shouldn’t concern themselves with them either.
Inevitably, the squabbling of the two mothers spreads to the happy couple, who go through the motions of pretending to want to call everything off, but — let’s face it — it’s a fucking wedding movie, so we all know where this is going even before entering the theater. While I will concede that the film features wonderful cinematography and sharp production values, even the best eye candy matters very little in the face of a formulaic story with cheaply-drawn characters and lazy execution. The ensemble cast includes Meagan Good, DeRay Davis, Valarie Pettiford, and Mike Epps, but only Tasha Smith (a Tyler Perry veteran and the best part about the Why Did I Get Married? movies) gives us a reason to laugh, ever so slightly. As an actress, she’s definitely a keeper and would ideally continue to go far with her career; unfortunately, Smith appears to have little to no desire to move on from movies like this one and the oeuvre of Perry. Finally, Jumping the Broom includes only one white character (with a name, that is), Amy the Wedding Planner (Julie Bowen), who just happens to be a total idiot. Mister Perry should be so proud.
Agent Bedhead lives incc Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.