When the trailer of Jumping the Broom began circulating on the net I was ecstatic. Finally! A black movie without Madea toting her piece of steel or Precious-esque caricatures was long overdue. Directed by Salim Akil (Girlfriends and The Game) and produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes, the romantic comedy delved into the surface class divisions among Blacks while celebrating Black love.
After an unsuccessful bout with men, Sabrina (Paula Patton) vows to God to “save her cookies” until marriage for her husband. Moments later Sabrina nearly hits Jason (Laz Alonso) with her car. After six months of courtship, Jason learns Sabrina is heading to China for her job. Jason makes the ultimate decision to leave Wall Street, propose to the love of his life and accompany her to China as husband and wife.
The Taylors and Watsons are from different sides of the track. They meet for the first time at the Watson’s Martha Vineyard estate where the wedding will take place. Pam (Loretta Devine), a postal worker, is annoyed with her son’s future wife for never crossing the bridge to Brooklyn to properly introduce herself. Her best friend and co-worker, Shonda (Tasha Smith), instructs her to give Sabrina a chance and remember the lessons she learned in anger management.
Pam is not impressed as she, her brother-in-law Uncle Willie (Mike Epps), her nephew Malcolm (DeRaye Davis) and Shonda arrive at the Martha’s Vineyard mansion. Before the luggage hits the curb, Pam can’t help but to throw shade at Sabrina and her mother Claudine (Angela Bassett). Claudine flaunts her family’s wealth and education by speaking French sporadically. She is a tad uppity, but more so proud of the lineage of her family who never were slaves, and in fact owned slaves. (Did they really just go there? Mis-education of the negro is alive and well.)
When Sabrina reveals she doesn’t want to jump the broom all hell breaks loose. Jumping the broom is a tradition in Jason’s family, dating back to slavery when slaves weren’t allowed to marry; and the only thing they could do to symbolize their union was jump the broom. Pam is livid at the suggestion of not jumping the broom and calls the family out on thinking they are “better than” because they have money.
Jason and Sabrina succumb to doubts on whether they should marry when their families continue to fight. Lust is in the air between the maid of honor, Blythe (Meagan Good) and the chef, while Shonda fights her urge to cougar it up with 20-year-old Sebastian (Romeo Miller). Sabrina’s funny and crass aunt Geneva (Valarie Pettiford) causes quite the stir with drama and her impromptu “Sexual Healing” tribute to the couple since they haven’t had sex in six months. And a curveball is thrown in the plot when gasping family secrets are revealed.
Jumping the Broom was refreshing in the sense that it depicted multi-dimensional characters. Black love was celebrated; and for the most part the despicable Black woman tropes- emasculating, downtrodden, bitchy, hopeless- were non-existent. Creating a space for educated and successful Blacks, who’s origin is not predated to poverty is a story that needs to be told more often.
My problem with the film was the extremities of the class distinctions. Pam as the working-poor widowed mother who was attitudinal, uncultured, mouthy and domineering didn’t work for me. The Taylors arrived on Martha’s Vineyard as the poor Black people that have never been anywhere or seen anything. Uncle Willie joked about not having ever been on a boat because he thought it would take him back to Africa. In another scene Kunta Kinte was the butt of jokes. Pam didn’t know shrimp cocktail was served cold, and criticized her son for their reception menu consisting of sushi and oysters. At the other end of the spectrum was the elite Watsons. Although the father, Mr. Watson (Brian Stokes Mitchell) was modest, Claudine boasts about spending a half a million on her daughter’s education. Her occasional blurts of French in front of a room full of people who don’t speak French, and her believing the Taylor’s to be “simple” and “tacky” was over the top.
Class distinctions don’t have to be so extreme to the point it’s unrealistic. Someone from the hood can have traveled abroad and appreciate the delicacies of Japanese cuisine. And people with degrees and wealth can be down-to-earth. Not all wealthy Blacks are uppity, just as not all poor Blacks are uncultured. Anyone who knows people from both ends of the spectrum understand this.
Although this film tried hard to steer away from Tyler Perry similarities, it failed. The cringe worthy comments made by Epps, Devine and DeRaye Davis were borderline coonery. The preachy religious messages we were bombarded with were overdone ( Arielle Loren’s piece on this is worth the read). Stereotypes weren’t exactly null and void either. Besides a man in drag, a substantially better written and directed script, Jumping the Broom looked slightly similar to the tired formulaic methods perfected by Mr. Perry.
The star-studded cast carried the film. Loretta Devine and Angela Bassett are veterans who have nailed those types of characters time and time again. Meagan Good played the same gold-digging typecast role she has played in every movie and TV show. Laz Alonso did exceptionally well as his first leading role, whereas Paula Patton’s performance fell flat. She was nothing more than a reincarnation of her Just Wright character.
At best, the movie was cute. It was not a great movie.
Blacks are so desperate for positive representation on the big screen that anything that is the antithesis of Perry will get raving reviews. I get it. We want to see a balance of something other than the tragic poor ignorant Black people who can’t catch a break in life. However, arguable and subjective positivity alone has never won Oscars. And the last time I checked, cute never equated to great. Unfortunately, cute may be all we can hope for when the only other option is a man in a dress.