The first ten minutes of Jumping The Broom are dreadful, absolutely terrible in that hyper-specific way only dreadful romantic comedies can be terrible. It starts with a girl in a lonely apartment promising God she’ll eschew one night stands if he’ll bring her Mr. Right. The Big Man makes good, only to see his Prince Charming run over by said girl doing the drive of shame. They date for a few months, he proposes and the opening titles role, promising yet another tired and miserable rehash of boring upperclass coupling. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, we’re given a few passable scenes and then a few pretty good scenes and then some really poignant scenes and finally, a happy ending that actually feels deserved.
Outside of horror flicks and snuff films, there is no cinematic genre that takes a more regular thrashing than romantic comedies. Cynics like to focus on all the happy endings as their lightning rod for the criticism, but the truth is no film, romantic comedies included, should ever have to apologize for a happy ending. Or for embracing love. Or for making us feel good walking out of the theater. Optimism is a wonderful thing. The real problem with romantic comedies is that all too few of them work for that happy ending. It’s optimism for optimism’s sake, and that’s as palatable as a 5 dollar footlong without ingredients.
Jumping The Broom is far from a perfect movie. As I said before, the first ten minutes are goddawful. Even as the tone and pacing pick up, there are some misfired jokes and ill-advised decisions, but goddamnit does this movie throw it all out on the table. Through traumatizing secrets, commentaries on what it means to be black, fights, arguments, make-ups, looks of disgust and Mike Epps delivered Harriet Tubman retorts, Jumping The Broom unfolds like an episode of NBC’s Parenthood, and in doing so, struggles and fights for every single inch, ultimately giving viewers a reason to smile when despite it all, they still choose love.
That girl who has just said yes is Sabrina (Paula Patton). She’s fallen in love with Jason (Laz Alonso), and with a transfer to China on the horizon, the pair have decided to rush their wedding, much to the chagrin of both their families. Sabrina’s parents (Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell) are descended from old money. Jason’s mother (Loretta Devine) works in the mailroom. With culture conflict inevitable, the in-laws have been kept apart, but there’s no buffer zone during pre-wedding festivities, a fact that becomes apparent as soon as Jason’s mother shows up with her uninvited brother Willie Earl (Mike Epps), her uninvited best friend Shonda (Tasha Smith) and her uninvited nephew Malcolm (DeRay Davis).
The bickering back-and-forth is overt and constant, but, where the antagonism might be played as simply humor in another film, it’s a catalyst for real character development in Jumping The Broom. Take a confrontation between Malcolm and Jason’s Goldman Sachs co-worker Ricky (Pooch Hall). During the bachelor party, Jason gets into a heated argument with Sabrina. She storms off. Ricky implores his buddy to follow. Malcolm tells him he needs to stay. The two well-meaning friends, both thinking they’re looking out for his best interests, turn on each other, screaming about clothes, behavior and intelligence level. Class warfare isn’t always about money. More often, it’s about ways of looking at the world.
Jumping The Broom’s third act is a mess of differing intentions and altered life goals, both between the two families and amongst the two families. Sabrina’s parents can barely stand each other. Willie Earl’s frustration with his sister oozes in every disappointed head shake. Even the bridesmaids and groomsmen can’t seem to figure out their own lives. With a cast of ten to fifteen characters, it’s impressive we can even keep all of them straight by the end, but Arlene Gibbs and Elizabeth Hunter’s screenplay takes it a step further, intricately weaving the story lines in such a way as to make each important and plot relevant.
There are plenty of movies you’ll see this year better than Jumping The Broom. I’m sure there will even be a few romantic comedies that work a little better, but this film deserves to be seen. With Mike Epps’ funniest performance in years and great efforts from Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine, Jumping The Broom may suffer from a rough start, but once it gets it together, the film delivers a solid hour and a half of wonderful, thought-provoking entertainment. Most romantic comedies end with an a-ha moment, followed by a kiss. Jumping The Broom starts with that a-ha moment and tirelessly works for the kiss. Open-mouthed, of course, because Jason and Sabrina have earned their happy ending.