There’s no doubt that Jumping the Broom seeks to please an under-served audience, with a story that could have worked. The marriage of Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) and Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso) brings together two very different families, a premise with both comedic and instructive possibilities.
Sabrina comes from well-heeled parents (Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell), while Jason was raised by his hard-working but overbearing mother (Loretta Devine). Mrs. Taylor comes to the Martha’s Vineyard wedding with a particular chip on her shoulder, feeling slighted that she’s never met Sabrina, even though the Watsons know Jason. She also has particular suggestions for the ceremony, like the symbolic “jumping the broom” of the title, that don’t match the Watsons’ tonier aesthetics. The two strong-willed mothers—studies in controlling uptightness at different volumes—clash amid much family drama, which is to say Bassett and Devine have opportunities to overact. Devine does her now familiar fit-throwing routine, and Bassett turns her unsmiling face to disapproving stone.
Fortunately, Jumping the Broom also features a large and appealing ensemble, like Mike Epps as Jason’s Uncle Willie Earl and Meagan Good as Sabrina’s high-standards friend Blythe. Less fortunately, many characters get worked into a rich, soapy lather by the movie’s endless revelations and confrontations. Sabrina seems to be the main character until the movie loses focus. She’s hardly helped by her pairing with the terminally bland Jason, who spends most of the movie looking vaguely ill.
Their lack of chemistry is further flattened by the film’s structure. Director Salim Akil is a TV veteran, and despite his experience with the ensemble casts of Girlfriends and The Game, this transition into features is bumpy. Sometimes he and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire take delight in the large cast, making clever matching shot transitions between groups at the different wedding parties. Elsewhere, though, the film is less visually astute: a scene focused on Sabrina and Jason cuts between long shots and close-ups so indiscriminately that it begins to resemble a slowed-down Tony Scott movie. Such disorganization is only enhanced by the unwieldy screenplay, which has characters taking theatrical pauses and making expositional small talk, some sounding like the run-up dialogue to musical numbers that never materialize.
The film also displays the imprint of producer T.D. Jakes, the pastor turned multimedia multi-hyphenate. Jumping the Broom, the third of his faith-based films, branches out into class conflicts, and indeed, examines how the Watsons and the Taylors engage differently with their cultural histories and traditions. But the movie’s bizarre religious framework is distracting. Early in the film Sabrina makes a promise to God to withhold her affections until she finds the man she will marry. When she meets Jason, she takes this as an answer to her prayers—and refuses to sleep with him until their wedding night. Maybe Jason looks so ill at ease because he’s feeling overpowered by the tedious moralism layered over opportunities for comedy or drama.
It’s not objectionable, of course, that Sabrina maintains her faith. But rather than explore the complexities of her efforts to reconcile her experiences with an intellectual, borderline pretentious family with her deep, specific commitment to her religion, the movie simply takes it as a given that anyone and everyone has the same vague but insistent beliefs. Characters go on about God’s plans, so the movie seems to preempt any potentially combustible situations, and so become weirdly passive about its own conflicts.
Faith doesn’t inform individual decisions here so much as it acts as continuing reassurance that none of the plot turns—which range from farcical to ridiculous to sitcom-simplified—matter all that much, even as melodrama.