Paula Patton and Laz Alonso star in "Jumping the Broom." (Jonathan Wenk / TriStar…)
Clashes of class within the African American community are not often depicted on the screen, but "Jumping the Broom" tackles them head-on with humor, compassion and plenty of wisdom.
Director Salim Akil, in a confident feature directorial debut, and a sparkling ensemble cast, working from Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs' insightful script, create an exuberant comedy of universal appeal that easily flows between satire and seriousness.
This endearing picture is proof that it is still possible for a major studio release to be fun, smart and heart-tugging and devoid of numbskull violence and equally numbing special effects.
Corporate attorney Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) and handsome Wall Streeter Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso) meet cute in time-honored movie fashion and are soon ready to marry — though the refined Watsons don't actually meet Jason's mother, Pam (Loretta Devine), a folksy Brooklyn postal worker, until the posh wedding at the Watsons' grand Martha's Vineyard estate.
Pam feels slighted, thus making the unthinking, casual condescension on the part of Sabrina and her mother (Angela Bassett) toward Pam and Jason's working class family seem so much worse, ultimately threatening to derail the nuptials themselves.
The Watson women are especially dismissive of Pam's wanting Sabrina and Jason to jump over a broom, which is how slaves signified they were wedded at a time when legal marriage was forbidden to them.
Beneath a façade of wealth and prestige the Watsons are hiding a couple of humdinger secrets, and while it's easy to sympathize with Pam's hurt feelings, she's a possessive mother who overreacts disastrously. Bassett and Devine have long been formidable actresses, and both excel as very different women who often seem unlikable but also possess the capacity to win our respect.
Patton and Alonso are persuasive as they struggle to cope with escalating unexpected events, and the film boasts a splendid supporting cast. Racial issues are not ignored but handled deftly.
The film's zinger moment occurs when one of the groom's family comes on to one of Sabrina's beautiful bridesmaids, explaining he usually doesn't go for "dark women, but I'll make an exception for you."