Because of their penchant for bringing together large numbers of people of diverse attitudes, backgrounds, and priorities, weddings are often as much about divisive conflicts as they are unifying celebration. Or at least the movies dealing with those ever-popular events seem to be. For every Rachel Getting Married, a film not without its share of inharmonious encounters but far more concerned with the possibilities of concord, there are a dozen like Our Family Wedding, which plays up disagreements for the majority of its running time only to resolve all dissension in time for the concluding nuptials.
Salim Akil’s Jumping the Broom is definitely in the latter group, and like many other entries in the genre it stocks its screenplay with more conflicts than it can possibly handle honestly in two hours. The central issue raised in Akil’s film, and the most intriguing, is the question of African-American identity particularly as it relates to socioeconomic status. At the nexus of this conundrum is Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso), a bland, if handsome young man trapped between the terms of the movie’s dichotomies. Raised by a tradition-minded working-class Brooklyn woman (Loretta Devine), he’s achieved financial success as an investment banker and plans to marry into a wealthy Martha’s Vineyard-based family. While Jason’s cousin resents his newfound status and its accompanying milieu of “white folks,” the groom tries to navigate his own position in a world built largely by whites, but in which black people are able to achieve success. But do black folks who speak French, live in mansions, and proudly declare that their ancestors weren’t slaves, but slaveholders—as Jason’s in-laws do—betray in some way their race or are they simply moving with the times?
It’s a provocative question raised by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs’s script, but one that the film doesn’t have time to properly address as it moves onto more easily palatable scenes of comic culture-clash and melodramatic revelations. Jason’s slighted mom rightfully resents her exclusion from the nuptial planning and quarrels with the bride’s modern-minded—and, not insignificantly, lighter skinned—family, but before she’s turned into the overprotective mother from hell, this feisty Brooklyn postal worker seems like a far more reasonable personage than her wealthy counterpart, Mrs. Watson (Angela Bassett). The inevitable conflicts develop, though, not only between mother-in-laws, but mother and son, cousin and cousin, and bride and groom over issues relating to tradition, wealth, and sexist notions of manhood. Akil keeps everything moving along as best he can, but just as the density of the screenplay precludes proper coverage of any of the film’s deeper concerns, so it manages to squeeze all the laughs out of this alleged comedy. Jumping the Broom is a surprising sour affair.
And a conservative one too. Largely questionable in its Christian-inflected sexual politics (T.D. Jakes is a producer and makes a cameo appearance), Akil’s movie posits marriage as one tradition that both families can agree upon as an absolute good. The bride, Sabrina (Paul Patton), who’s taken a vow of chastity after too many one-night stands, gleefully chirps that soon she and her groom will be “Mr. and Mrs. Jason Edgar Taylor,” despite the fact that she’s a highly successful professional in her own right. Her mom similarly explains that her decision not to divorce her husband is based not on any rational consideration, but on the fact that she recited vows decades ago to that effect. But it’s the film’s puritanism that really grates, from Sabrina’s decision not to “give up the cookie” until marriage, forcing her fiancé through six months of sexless dating, to the non-hookups of two potential couples simply because in the film’s viewpoint such casual relations are not part of the program. Too bad comedy and insight aren’t either. If part of the appeal of nuptials is the undercurrent of sexual expectation, then the experience of watching this wedding pic is more akin to the fate suffered by Jason early on in the movie, so desperate for excitement that just a little kiss from his intended triggers a deeply unsatisfying emission in his skivvies.