Movie Review: “Jumping the Broom”

“Jumping the Broom” is like a Tyler Perry movie with polish. An ensemble comedy about a wedding that joins a wealthy, Martha’s Vineyard family of African American professionals with the groom’s more down to Earth working-class Brooklynites, it is well-cast, well-played, passably written and filmed in the warm glow only the top drawer cinematographers can achieve.

And if this T.D. Jakes project (he produced it) lacks the scruffy, hit-or-miss outrageousness of Perry’s down home Atlanta farces, it compensates with heart, smarts and a confident air that Perry’s pictures lack. “Broom” never looks like it’s trying too hard.

Paula Patton of “Precious” shaves off a few years playing Sabrina, an excitable young woman of privilege who prays for a “good man” and promptly hits one — Jason (Laz Alonzo). Literally. With her car.  They date, and when it looks as if she’s about to move to China for a job assignment, he proposes. A wedding at the house on the Vineyard is arranged.

But Jason hasn’t brought Sabrina to meet his mom. And Pam (Loretta Devine) is fuming over that. She vents to her pal Shonda (Tasha Smith) and keeps score of all the slights she collects (“That’s strike one!”) from the bride and the highfalutin mother of the bride (Angela Bassett), who switches to French when she wants to say something nasty about the new in-laws.

The fights are over clothes, the menu, the “Electric Slide” (wedding dance) and “Jumping the Broom,” a fading wedding tradition dating from slave times.

Mike Epps and DeRay Davis play the groom’s fish-out-of-water cousins, wise-crackers overwhelmed by all the wealth. Meagan Goode is the bride’s snobby best friend and Valarie Pettiford is Sabrina’s sexy, free spirit aunt.

A nice touch in Elizabeth Hunter/Arlene Gibbs script — there’s an earnest white wedding planner (Julie Bowen) who is the surrogate for the non-black viewer. The character is something of a cliche in black sitcoms, but Bowen makes her work, constantly tossing off overly familiar slang (“Girrrrrl…”) and asking inappropriate questions about hair weaves, skin shadings, chicken as a dinner staple and the necessity of “The Electric Slide.”

“It’s like the hokey pokey for black people!”

Virtually everybody in this film directed by TV veteran Salim Akil has been a member of Tyler Perry’s ensemble company. But here, they don’t force the laughs. Characters are underplayed, even the clowns. Pairing off Devine and Bassett as foils, two good actresses who rarely get to play straight comedy, pays off. Their confrontations are class warfare, with each scoring her hits.

The funny moments outnumber the warm ones. There’s a touch of religion and plenty of melodrama, especially in the contrivances of a cluttered and drawn out third act. But as traditional as it is, “Jumping the Broom” throws a few nice twists into its situation and the players deliver. There’s no man in a Madea dress in this one, and you don’t miss her.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexual content.

Cast: Paula Patton, Angela Bassett, Laz Alonzo, Loretta Devine,Mike Epps

Credits: Directed by Salim Akil, written by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs, produced by T.D. Jakes, Elizabeth Hunter, Curtis Wallace and Tracey E. Edmunds. A Tristar Pictures release. Running time: 1:53.

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