No offense Big Momma and Madea, but
Jumping the Broom
offers the distinction of being the first predominantly black movie this year where the leading lady isn't a man in a housecoat.
This buoyant, multigenerational comedy that takes its title from the African American wedding ritual has other distinctions as well. It's relatively raunch-free, it has a sparkling cast that reunites Waiting to Exhale stars Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine as combative matriarchs, and it likes its characters well enough to forgive them their faults.
Paula Patton and Laz Alonso are the couple from opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum who bring together their very different families for the first time for their destination wedding in Martha's Vineyard.
When they meet at the Watson spread in Chilmark, the snooty Watsons and scrappy Taylors start behaving like cartoon Montagues and Capulets in a version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
Sabrina Watson (the breathtakingly lovely Patton), daughter of old-money professionals, is an enterprising attorney. Jason Taylor (Alonso), a Wall Street broker, comes from humbler origins in Brooklyn.
Mrs. Watson (Bassett), a tightly-wound homemaker, and Mrs. Taylor (Devine), a loosey-goosey postal worker, go at each other like Momzilla and Mothra. One can laugh at their verbal smackdown while also thinking that these enormously talented actresses deserve a movie where they can play three-dimensional parts.
The film, written by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs, is heavier on confrontations than conversations. And it is harsher on its female characters than its males.
But it knows a thing or three about status anxiety. And it and tickles some heartfelt laughs out of the script's seesaws between high melodrama and low comedy.
Among the supporting players, Mike Epps is gently funny as Jason's Uncle Willie Earl, who mediates the tensions between Mrs. Watson's big-fish superiority and Mrs. Taylor's fish-out-of-water inferiority.
Unexpectedly charming is the singer Romeo as a young Ivy Leaguer courting Jason's Auntie Shonda (Tasha Smith).