The film that Jumping the Broom most reminds me of is, oddly, Much Ado About Nothing (1993). That's not to suggest that script writers Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs can rival Shakespeare, only that this is one of those movies that I suspect will engender criticisms grounded on what it is (a formula comedy) rather than in how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do (quite well, thank you).
By its nature, an ensemble comedy about a "downtown" man marrying an "uptown" woman will feature stock characters as their families get together: the rakish uncle, the jealous best friend, the domineering (potential) mother-in-law, the shrewish wife, and the henpecked husband. So too will it feature plot points that are as old as the bard: overheard conversations, miscommunications that keep genuine lovers apart, jealousies that flare up at just the wrong moment but buckle in the face of common sense when it's time for a happy ending. (For extra credit, you may now write an essay comparing Julie Bowen's hapless wedding planner in Jumping the Broom to Michael Keaton's Dogberry in Much Ado, and situate both in the literary history of hapless but well-meaning servants whose antics accentuate and comment upon the central characters' conflicts.)
The point is that comedy is about execution, not originality, and Jumping the Broom is pretty darn funny most of the time and kind of sweet the rest of the time. Full disclosure: I saw this primarily African-American film with a mostly black audience, and judging from the reaction, maybe ten percent of the humor was comprised of cultural inside jokes that went over my head. Even that was kind of refreshing in that it wasn't trying so hard to have "crossover" appeal that it lost the nerve to be about the people it was about. While much of the humor was culturally specific, most of the sentiment came from universally recognizable human emotions: fear, love, jealousy, anger, and, above all, forgiveness.
Three prominent instances of prayer mark the film as a self-consciously Christian production. (The movie was produced by Bishop T. D. Jakes and TDJ Enterprises, which even offers a discussion guide for believers.) Groom-to-be Jason Taylor (Las Alonzo) gives the film's coda in a short prayer asking for God's help in addressing a situation that has spiraled out of his control. Bride-to-be Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) utters a brief invocation for strength before making a key decision. Mrs. Watson (Angela Bassett) is shown reading her Bible and being confronted by a loved one. It is to the film's credit that the least belabored prayer—Sabrina's—is also the most poignant. The film does a nice job of allowing the characters to inhabit the story and letting Christian beliefs and practices inform their actions without having to be about their Christianity in every moment of every scene.
The acting is also much stronger than one might expect in a so-called "Christian" film. Bassett and Loretta Devine (as Mrs. Taylor) both manage to take characters that are at heart pretty unlikeable and keep them from becoming cartoonish harpies. Alonzo trusts enough in the key, telling moments of character development that he doesn't overplay them, making Jason a thoughtful, complex character by the end. (One of my pet peeves in romances is when a woman says she loves a man because she sees things in him that the rest of the world doesn't, but the film never actually shows those qualities. Here, we get to see both the qualities in the bride and groom that infuriate each other and the qualities that they find endearing.) As Sabrina, Patton has the most difficult role in that she must be relentlessly upbeat without coming across as craven, and it is only through the actress committing to her character's goodness that she is able to create a credibly forgiving and enthusiastic bride.
Some Christian viewers won't be able to get past the crudeness of many of the sexual jokes. Others might complain that the cultural tradition of jumping the broom is given short shrift, treated essentially as a MacGuffin. The eleventh hour complication goes on too long, undercutting some of the good sense and good will toward the characters (particularly Sabrina) that the film has painstakingly built. Some major plot points are resolved a bit too quickly in the haste to get the young lovers to the altar. But then again, I could say pretty much the same thing about the marriage of Hero and Claudio.Discussion starters
- How is the biblical principle of "leaving and cleaving" consistent with the commandment to honor one's parents? How well does Jason balance these separate demands on his loyalty?
- Why, ultimately, is it important to Mrs. Taylor that Sabrina and Jason jump the broom? Which conflicts in the film emanate from clashing values and which from characters simply wanting to have things their own way?
- Is one of the families more or less at fault for conflicts preceding the wedding?
- Nearly every character in the film must forgive and be forgiven by someone else over the course of the film. If you were in a similar situation, which character's actions would you find the hardest to forgive? Is it only the magnitude of the error that makes it harder to forgive, or do other emotional, spiritual, and psychological factors make some offenses harder to bear?
Note: The producers have put together an in-depth study guide.
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Jumping the Broom is rated PG-13 for sexual situations and some crass language. Sabrina is shown in bra and panties. She makes a comment about Jason's aroused state, and several male friends discuss and joke about masturbation. One other couple is interrupted while making out and shown in partial dress. Various characters consume alcohol. Several of the characters, male and female, are shown in swimming attire. The language is consistent with a PG-13, with most crassness inferred through euphemisms rather than overtly stated.
Photos © TriStar Pictures
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