Jumping the Broom is an in-law comedy with soul.
Jumping the Broom’s classconsciousness deserves credit, especially coming this soon after the mainstream media’s absurd royal wedding obsession— which undid years of egalitarian conviction and brought class ignorance and wealth worship back to the masses. Billed as an "Uptown vs. Downtown" fable, Jumping the Broom reveals working-class and upper-middle-class presumptions through the engagement of pampered New York career girl Sabrina Watson (willowy, lightskinned Paula Patton) to brown-skinned, bootstrapping Wall Streeter Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso).
It’s refreshing to be reminded of the fundamental social reality of class. Jumping the Boom pushes it rather broadly at the wedding on Sabrina’s family’s Martha’s Vineyard compound, with Loretta Devine as Jason’s postal worker mom being insanely at odds with both Sabrina and her "siddity" mother Angela Bassett. Their immediate dislike of each other sets up crude laughs while also exacerbating the bride and groom’s insecurities. The film’s producer Bishop T.D. Jakes—this is his first production since the earnest drama on marital ties Not Easily Broken—goes for the substance of modern African- American lifestyles instead of the facile sentiments Tyler Perry purveys.
This in-law comedy (co-presented with Tracey Edmonds, who also produced Soul Food, Hav Plenty and Punks) doesn’t hide the fact that real disconnections exist within African-American culture. Jakes, playing the role of Rev. James, counsels Sabrina and Jason that after their fivemonth celibate courtship, "real tests" will occur. The comedy deepens: He predicts the fundamental readjustment of social and ethical beliefs for the bride’s bourgeois family and the groom’s working-class relatives.
When the clash reaches a peak, Jason asserts his independence. The chesty, breathy, bullying Devine is given an Obama-era warning: "If you keep forgetting progress, you gonna find yourself on the wrong side of history." More exact than any of the mere "progressivism" Obama promotes, it significantly complicates the black matriarch’s righteousness. Implying that class separatism is irrelevant to family and racial unity opens up the full range inside the monolith of black stereotypes.
Not to be confused with Patrik-Ian Polk’s Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom, which showed a group of gay black men having a wedding in Martha’s Vineyard, Jakes and Edmond’s production explores a black, heterosexual wedding with an advanced attitude toward sex that has similar boldness. Some might think there’s no risk in a heterosexual wedding film this long after the sexual revolution, but it’s not just class that makes Jakes’ comedydrama comparable to Polk’s. When Sabrina tells Jason, "I prayed on it, and God answered with you," her admission of a past of dissatisfied erotic interests moves modern sexuality into the arena of conventional mores.
Jumping the Broom—which refers to a traditional African slave ritual—is not a silly exploitation of religious values as in Tyler Perry movies, but more serious and appreciative. The comedy format barely avoids triteness, but it’s potentially as great as Rachel Getting Married. Jakes, Edmonds and director Salim Ali’s acknowledgement of sexual urges-plus-abstinence creates a new appreciation of black culture’s sacredvs.-profane dichotomy. Featuring Marvin Gaye’s "Sexual Healing" in the story is not out of context. Surely Polk’s religious gay characters are not in some far-off pew.
>>Jumping the Broom
Directed by Salim Akil
Runtime: 113 min.
If Jakes’ sobriety is what Tyler Perry ought to learn from, Kon Ichikawa’s The Makioka Sisters (1985, now in rep at Film Forum) demonstrates the aesthetics that Jakes, Perry and director Ali should study. Ichikawa approaches the family melodrama as seriously as Jakes, but with superior cinematic command so that this story of four middle-class Japanese sisters trying to secure each other’s romantic life in marriage is also a full-fledged exercise in the sensuality of genetic similarity and different shades of family sensibility.
Revisiting The Makioka Sisters so long after its first release makes it a reminder of the humane values that have virtually vanished from the international art-movie scene. Its virtues are apparent in Ichikawa’s basic treatment of his actresses’ faces; his camera is open to their emotional variety and subtlest physical expression. This film is itself an encore to Film Forum’s Japanese Divas series. Although Ichikawa’s motif follows the Makioka family’s progress seasonally—with an unabashed exultation of womankind in nature—its greatest sense of movement is internal, spiritual. That’s also what Jakes is after. Ichikawa proves it can be done.
>>The Makioka Sisters
Directed by Kon Ichikawa
At Film Forum May 4–12 Runtime: 140 min.