Having seen my share of Gospel-flavored comedies and dramas, I know what to expect. I prepared to run down a mental checklist while watching Jumping the Broom, a movie where uptown girl falls in love with downtown guy, forcing their families to unite disastrously for the wedding.
Check. She has become a must-have to fill the black mama or frumpy middle-aged woman slot, and here she plays the groom-to-be's mother.
Standup comedian turned B-list actor?
Check. This time it's funnyman Mike Epps as the groom's uncle.
Beautiful, silky-haired black woman as leading lady?
Yep. Paula Patton's on the case.
But, surprisingly, that's where my checks ended.
Despite being co-produced by popular Pentecostal Bishop T.D. Jakes, there is no church scene. No soul-stirring choir or pastor preaching to drive home a Christian message of forgiveness or redemption or renewed life.
Religious references are there, but understated. Discouraged from one-night stands, for instance, Patton's character vows to God that she won't have sex until she's married. Her fiance (Laz Alonso) reluctantly agrees, although one scene where he attempts to persuade her otherwise might not go over well in Sunday school.
And, save the subtle appearance of a sweet potato pie, no one chows down on soul food in Jumping the Broom. No collard greens, no fried chicken, not even a slice of buttermilk corn bread.
The bride's family even speaks fluent French.
Without stereotypes attempting to relate to the black experience, this movie allows more focus on the plot, the characters and the universal theme of love conquering all, be it in families or romantic relationships.
The rich-family-meets-working-class idea isn't unique, so some parts of the film are predictable. And complex subthemes — betrayal, family secrets and class disparities among blacks — wrap up a bit too nicely by the end. Despite some low-down dirty tactics, everybody's hugging and grinning before the credits roll. Last, Patton tends to overact in a few scenes.
But if you're looking for laughs and a fun movie about love, Angela Bassett is solid as the no-nonsense mother of the bride-to-be. She's the perfect counterpart to Devine, who fulfills expectations in carrying her sassy weight.
Comic relief comes from Epps and others, including the wedding coordinator (Julie Bowen) whose white character is humorously mystified by African-American hair, slang and other things cultural.
I found myself cracking up one moment, engaging in self-reflection the next, then drifting into that fantasy realm that love stories require.
Then came the reception. And, oops, one last check for my list.
Big family line dance?
Mmm hmm. The cupid shuffle.
Sharon Tubbs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3394.