How few films are targeted toward a black audience? You only think about this question when watching such a film, like the eminently passable wedding movie “Jumping the Broom.”
When found, these movies can place a different spin on familiar family situations. The title refers to the ritual that slaves used to signify marriage and that has lasted to the modern age. The movies also create an entire star circuit of black actors and comedians that operates in the shadow of Hollywood stardom.
One African-American star worth noting is the Reverend TD Jakes. The spirituality book author is moving into film, looking to expand his multimedia empire. “Jumping the Broom” is his latest endeavor. He’s even the Alfred Hitchcock of these movies, always showing up for a cameo to dispense a smidgen of advice.
Jakes has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about marriage, and “Jumping the Broom” is his second film on the topic. 2008’s “Not Easily Broken” was not the disaster one might suspect would arise from dabbling in a new medium, but it wasn’t much more than formulaic marital self-help onscreen. “Jumping the Broom” takes a step forward by seeming to be a natural though familiar story. In other words, the Jakes films have advanced from preachy polemic to organic cliché.
Dome reasonably well, the clichés here have a way of slipping past you. We have the bride who has been bad at finding a man. The nice-guy groom overwhelmed by his sabotaging mother. An uptight mother-in-law. A playboy uncle. A studly cook. The best friend with too-high standards who can never find a man but whose eyes are opened to someone during the weekend. Rich people. Unlikely hook-ups. Dark family secrets. A disastrous rehearsal dinner. The too tidy ending of unlikely forgivenesses. Did I miss any? Does the film?
Yet “Jumping the Broom” gets plenty right. The film’s most compelling aspect is its clash of the classes within the black community. Her family is tremendously wealthy, French-speaking, and without history as slaves. His is a lower-class, city-dwelling family that’s suspicious of money. Class conflict is a cliché of many wedding films, but class fissures among black families is not a topic often seen in films and “Jumping the Broom” does well with this fresh approach.
Paula Patton may never be a star in the wide universe of movies. But the “Precious” actress has the same brims with an affecting smile of a junior Julia Roberts. If her character is a little too much of a saint, and she is at times a little too eager to please, then we forgive her. Angela Bassett needs no forgiveness. She simply doesn’t get as much film work as she might deserve.
Ultimately that’s about it and that’s enough. I’ve seen enough wedding comedies in my life to know when one isn’t working. This one does.