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A wedding between a Hispanic family and a black family in a movie? Hooray! Hollywood has finally managed a project that tackles the somewhat sensitive topic of interracial marriage and multi-ethnic tensions without involving white people! Before you start celebrating, I should point out that this decision probably had nothing to do with the movie industry broadening its mind. No, I’d wager it had more to do with the fact that you can mine way more goofy cultural gags out of the Hispanic and black cultures when you mix them together than if you pair either one up with some milquetoast New England white non-culture.
To be even more clear, the fact that Our Family Wedding involves the marriage of a black guy to a Hispanic girl is completely irrelevant except for the culture jokes. The movie is a plug-and-play marriage dramedy template designed to take any two cultural backgrounds and watch what happens when they try to plan a wedding together. It wouldn’t be surprising if this becomes some sort of cross-cultural marital franchise. Coming soon: Our Family Wedding 2, a second generation Chinese guy takes his Italian fiancé home to meet the parents.
The real heart of the movie is less about race relations and more to do with the love between men and women. Lucia (America Ferrera) and Marcus (Lance Gross) are the newly engaged couple coming home to break the engagement news to both families, but their story is only the start. Marcus’ father, Brad Boyd (Forest Whitaker), is a radio personality playboy divorcee who regularly arranges one night stands with girls half his age, all the while suppressing his true feelings for his attorney and best friend Angela (Regina King). Lucia’s parents, Miguel (Carlos Mencia) and Sonia (Diana-Maria Riva), are in a marital funk, having lost the passion of their once youthful relationship to the demands of parenthood and everyday life. All three couples have a different problem to overcome, and much of the movie is devoted to the characters ignoring, discussing and solving those problems in formulaic rom-com fashion.
That might have made for a nice story all by itself, but the movie interrupts the enjoyable ups and downs of emotional human interaction with bizarre fits of slap-stick comedy that would worked better in a Van Wilder flick. One minute Forest Whitaker’s Brad is having a touching heart-to-heart with his son about the importance of finding the right person before committing to marriage, and the next he’s being humped by a goat that has just finished off a bottle of his Viagra. And even though there are plenty of opportunities to blend the cross-culture jokes in a humorous manner, the filmmakers prefer to toss them on the screen and beat them senseless like children at a piñata.
Just as mismatched as the drama and comedy are the members of the cast. Whitaker is formidable as the unorthodox single father trying to sway his son from a rushed nuptial, but seems completely lost on the moments of comic insanity (for example, the aforementioned humping goat scene… though in his defense I’m not sure there’s any right way to play that moment). Mencia on the other hand is perfectly suited to the wackiness, but falls short when he needs to be the conflicted father and struggling husband. The awkwardness of the performances may be a side-effect of the film’s bipolar disorder, but it creates problems of its own which left me checking my watch every ten minutes.
The cross-cultural aspect of the comedy finally hits its stride in the final act with the wedding and reception. Just when you think they can’t top a big black granny and a little abuelita duking it out over wedding cake, they go and toss in a Mariachi band singing “Soon As I Get Home” a la Bobby Valentino. But by the movie gets it right, it’s too late. The ninety minute running time seems more like three hours and it’s hard not to feel like it’s been wasted. With a little more thought and polish this could have been a great new take on the wedding flick. Instead the final product is a mediocre disappointment that might be worth a rental fee, but not a ticket at the theater.