It’s no surprise that Salim Akil’s feature-film debut, Jumping The Broom, is being marketed as if it were a broad, loud Tyler Perry comedy, for two reasons: Perry’s films are the kind of popular, profitable, known quantity that marketers love, while the actuality of Jumping The Broom is a much harder sell. While the element being pushed in ads—an “uptown vs. downtown” culture clash among black families meeting for the first time at the ritzy, hasty wedding of their respective offspring—does make a token appearance, Broom starts out as a staid drawing-room comedy, and turns into a gentle Christian message film. Fat suits and pratfalls have no place here.
The film opens with a rom-com-worthy contrivance that takes raunch off the table while still allowing for a little off-color humor: After an embarrassing one-night stand, rich-girl scion Paula Patton promises God she’ll “save [her] cookies” for the husband He sends her. Then she promptly runs over Laz Alonso, who was also just asking God to provide a soulmate. Months later, they’re about to marry—in a rush that’s equal parts godly certainty, awkward plot device, and rank horniness—at the opulent Martha’s Vineyard compound owned by Patton’s parents, Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell. But while Alonso’s Brooklyn-based family is mostly ready to enjoy a weekend of luxury, his mother (Loretta Devine) feels slighted, resentful, and ready to hate Patton at first sight. Their clash plays out via politely delivered, acidic words rather than thrown objects, slap-fests, and goofy sound effects: Broom is a quiet, modest film, in which one of the bigger dramatic points is whether Devine is right in feeling that God and scripture are justifying her spiteful actions.
But while Broom largely isn’t a broad comedy, it still rarely goes for restraint in anything but tone. The story requires Devine and Bassett to overplay their hands as cartoonish harridans, while Patton constructs half the story’s drama by behaving like a brittle, spoiled child and repeatedly threatening to cancel the wedding if it can’t play out according to her fantasies. But how much of a stake do viewers have in whether two recent acquaintances complete a rushed wedding for questionable reasons? To distract from that key point, Broom fills its runtime with melodramatic family revelations and internecine squabbling, PG hookups between other couples from the sprawling cast (Tasha Smith, Mike Epps, and Meagan Good, among others), and tame mockery of clueless white wedding planner Julie Bowen, whose discomfort around her black clients prompts comedic social awkwardness. It all adds up to a more tasteful, restrained film than the average Perry joint, but taste doesn’t imply quality, an escape from hoary rom-com clichés, or characters worth caring about.