Jumping the Broom is the type of movie one wants to like and knows a lot of people will like, but just didn’t enjoy all that much.  It’s the broad kind of African-Amerian family comedy/melodrama rife with many of the stapes of that genre:  high on the melodrama, full of earnestness (or earnestly portrayed characters), a whole lot of redemption, and plenty of music and/or laughs to wash it down with.  Its screenplay is chock full of more conflicts than it can possibly deal with well in two hours.

The movie opens with a hot, up and coming corporate lawyer Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) fresh off of a(nother) humiliating one night stand after which she makes a promise to God that she’ll save her “cookies” until marriage.  And because God is in the bargaining business, her promise comes with the caveat that he has to deliver unto her Mr. Right.  Luckily for this script, God IS a cosmic genie, because she immediately runs into Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso), a man so perfect, I want to marry him.  Five unrealistic, I mean, magical months later, they’re planning their wedding.

All of this just sets up the actual movie, but it also typifies the problem with this movie.  That vow of chastity and this couple’s struggles with it as they developed their relationship would and could have been a movie all by itself.  Instead, it’s just fodder for the real set up.  The movie has two other thematic thrusts about which it is really about:

“Remember who you are.” –Mrs. Watson (Angela Bassett)

1)  Class. It sets itself up as an African-American Romeo and Juliet, with the thing working to keep the two star crossed lovers apart being wealth.  Mrs. Watson (Angela Bassett) is proper, cultured,  lives in Martha’s Vineyard, speak French, and matter-of-factly declare that their ancestors weren’t slaves, but slaveholders.  Jason’s mother, Pam (Loretta Devine), works in the Post Office (fulfills every stereotype we’ve come to expect of such a worker), and spends that majority of the movie spouting about being real and not forgetting where one comes from.

Of course their inevitable collision is ugly.  Few actresses could pull off what Devine was asked to do.  In fact, of the actresses who could pull it off, Devine is on the short list.  But, as written, Pam is a wholly unlikeable character; and realistically, there’s a whole lot of forgiveness all sides would have to be worked through after her antics and comments.

Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs’ screenplay could have engaged in serious consideration and debate about whether moving on up (and out) is a betrayal of their race.  Setting up one family as “bougie” and the other as “keeping it real” is an attempt to pigeonhole a group, people who don’t fit perfectly into some predetermined cultural box, and not allow for split cultures and interests, as if no one is allowed to like things not seen as “black”. It points to a level of assimilation, having grown up in the dominant culture. It points to how large our class problem is, often trumping our race problem as we assume that only one group can have middle class values or any kind of middle class culture … as opposed to redefining the boundaries of that culture.  Instead, the movies engages in a “Yee-haw, let’s just laugh at the yokels” spirit.  The only urban working class character able to hold a fork is Jason, the (only) one with a higher education.

“Even a soul mate can really test you.” –Reverend James (T.D. Jakes)

2)  Lies.  Instead of giving the perfect wealthy family some reasonable character flaws, the script decides on the tact of piling on levels of deception to be uncovered as the movie progresses.  Wedding are the perfect vehicle for this, as their attendant stresses not only bring large, diverse groups together but also reveal faultlines.

The thing is, the movie wants to be about the real work of relationships.  It takes its name from a slave tradition of jumping the broom.  Marriage among slaves wasn’t recognized so to declare their marital intent, slaves jumped a broom as their public ceremony.  Marriage is a lifetime commitment. That’s forever for at least one of the partners. Marriage is a sacrifice of oneself for the sake of another. One surrenders their personal rights as they strive to please another (I Cor. 7:32-34). Marriage is risk. There is no guarantee of happiness or fulfillment. One is always vulnerable to heartache or heartbrokenness. No one can hurt you the way, nor as deeply, a spouse can.  In short, marriage is work, marriage is work, marriage is work.

“I can’t fix this.  I need You.  I need Your help, God.” –Jason

Jumping the Broom is often heavy handed, filled with stacks of Real Talk, treads the line between saccharine and heart-warming, and only mildly leavened by a sense of humor (mostly in the form of Willie Earl (Mike Epps).  While declaring itself an uptown-meets-downtown comedy, it’s secondary theme of revealing lies within a family is what undercuts the movie.  Directed under time and budget constraints by television director Salim Akil, the characters are forced to act so ugly (yet earnest!) and be put in situations that you can’t believably gloss over family sitcom style.

Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine are superb, distinguished actresses, yet each practically mugs for the camera with scowls and eye rolls as the “one take only” budget comes through.  Yet the movie is full of movies that could have been.  From Sabrina’s bridesmaid, Blythe (Meagan Good), who like Sabrina, has a knack for hooking up with the wrong men yet connects with the wedding banquet chef (Gary Dourdan); to a student (Romeo Miller) with an eye for Pam’s much older best friend, Shonda (Tasha Smith).  There is a good movie in here, it’s just buried under layers of earnestness.