Jumping the Broom is like a Tyler Perry movie with polish.
An ensemble comedy about a wedding that joins a wealthy Martha's Vineyard family of African-American professionals with the groom's more down-to-earth working-class Brooklynites, it is well cast, well played, passably written and filmed in the warm glow that only the top-drawer cinematographers can achieve.
And if this T.D. Jakes project (he produced it) lacks the scruffy, hit-or-miss outrageousness of Perry's down-home Atlanta farces, it compensates with heart, smarts and a confident air that Perry's pictures lack. Broom never looks as if it's trying too hard.
Paula Patton of Precious shaves off a few years playing Sabrina, an excitable young woman of privilege who prays for a "good man" and promptly hits one: Jason (Laz Alonzo). Literally. With her car.
They date, and when it looks as if she's about to move to China for a job assignment, he proposes. A wedding at the house on the Vineyard is arranged.
But Jason hasn't brought Sabrina to meet his mom, Pam (Loretta Devine), who is fuming over that. She vents to her pal Shonda (Tasha Smith) and keeps score of all the slights she collects ("That's strike one!") from the bride and the highfalutin' mother of the bride (Angela Bassett), who switches to French when she wants to say something nasty about the new in-laws.
The fights are over clothes, the menu, the Electric Slide (wedding dance) and "jumping the broom," a fading wedding tradition dating from slave times.
Mike Epps and DeRay Davis play the groom's fish-out-of-water cousins, wise-crackers overwhelmed by all the wealth. Meagan Good is the bride's snobby best friend, and Valarie Pettiford is Sabrina's sexy, free-spirit aunt.
A nice touch in Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs' script: There's an earnest white wedding planner (Julie Bowen) who is the surrogate for the non-black viewer. The character is something of a cliché in black sitcoms, but Bowen makes her work, constantly tossing off overly familiar slang ("Girrrrrl ...") and asking inappropriate questions about hair weaves, skin shadings, chicken as a dinner staple and the necessity of the Electric Slide. ("It's like the Hokey Pokey for black people!")
Virtually everyone in this film directed by TV veteran Salim Akil has been a member of Perry's ensemble company. But here, they don't force the laughs. Characters are underplayed, even the clowns. Pairing off Devine and Bassett, two good actresses who rarely get to play straight comedy, as foils pays off. Their confrontations are class warfare, with each scoring hits.
The funny moments outnumber the warm ones. There's a touch of religion and plenty of melodrama, especially in the contrivances of a cluttered and drawn-out third act. But as traditional as it is, Jumping the Broom throws a few nice twists into its situation, and the players deliver. There's no man in a Madea dress in this one, and you don't miss her.