By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

Jumping the Broom is a faith-based comedy-drama that focuses on two African-American families from different rungs of the socioeconomic ladder who gather for a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding celebration.

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The Taylors are working class, the Watsons upper crust. The Taylors are blue-collar, the Watsons bourgeois. The Taylors are from this side of the tracks, the Watsons from that side.

So look out:  class warfare is on the menu.

That means that the ancestral ceremony referred to in the title, a tradition which was abandoned with the end of slavery because of its association with the ugly injustice of that period, comes up as a potential ceremony element.  And because one clan wants to include it and the other doesn’t, it’s a point of angry contention.

Paula Patton and Laz Alonzo play corporate attorney Sabrina Watson and investment banker Jason Taylor, the bride and groom, while Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine portray the respective matriarchs, the antipathetic mothers of the soon-to-be spouses.

And the large supporting cast of friends and family members bringing assorted bits of baggage to the festivities includes Mike Epps, DeRay Davis, Valarie Pettiford, Julie Bowen, Tasha Smith, and Meagan Good.

Devine’s tradition-minded Mrs. Taylor, a salty and anger-management-challenged postal worker who raised her son, Jason, in Brooklyn, has watched as he has achieved success on Wall Street.

Now he’s about to marry into a wealthy Martha’s Vineyard family that she hasn’t even met yet and who have pretty much excluded her from all the wedding arrangements.

Her conflict with her counterpart, Bassett’s elegant and haughtly Mrs. Watson, who’s married (but perhaps not for long) to troubled and preoccupied businessman Brian Stokes Mitchell, is inevitable, and Mrs. Watson is irritated that the wedding has had to be planned in such a short period of time, the golden career opportunity in China for the newlyweds notwithstanding.

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And with Mrs. Taylor wanting to carry on the broom-jumping tradition, just as her family always has, Mrs. Watson is losing the controlling grip she has always assumed she would have on the nuptials.

The mothers’ immediate antagonism isn’t helped by the fact that some see the Watsons, the lighter-skinned and more-modern-minded of the two families, as betraying their race with the way they portray and refer to their ancestors.

Debuting director Salim Akil, whose background is in television, works from a screenplay by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs based on a story by Hunter.  He shoots in an agreeable and appropriate warm glow.

And although there are a few too many melodramatic flourishes and family skeletons for one wedding in one movie to comfortably include, the property is so good-natured that we forgive the slight excess.

What makes us so willing to play along are the abundant hearty laughs and numerous friendly chuckles served up by the knowing script and game cast, especially Devine, terrific as usual as a protective, stubborn mom and widow hanging on to her son, herself, and her values for dear life, and Epps, more restrained and grounded in reality and thus much funnier than usual.

Director Akil does make the mistake of starting at slightly too melodramatic a pitch, rather than establishing the rhythms of everyday life so that the contrast would be more striking once the arguing commenced.  When the matriarchs meet, they get off on the wrong foot so quickly and so completely that only the discipline and talent of Devine and Bassett keep the train on the track.

But the comforting presence of the two of them, coupled with the likable leavening of the material with humor pretty much all the way through, keeps us on the side of the movie, if not on the side of particular characters.

So we’ll wed 2½ stars out of 4 for an audience-friendly matrimonial comedy about family, food, and a family feud. Jumping the Broom gives this bride and groom a sneak peek at what “for worse” might look like — and we’re all the better for it.

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