OBS at the Movies
JUMPING THE BROOM
By Ron Covington
THE TAYLORS ARE DOWNTOWN. THE WATSONS ARE UPTOWN. Two very different families converge on Martha's Vineyard one weekend for a wedding.
TriStar Pictures May 6, 2011
Director: Salim Akil
Elizabeth Hunter (screenplay) and Arlene Gibbs (screenplay)
Elizabeth Hunter (story)
Produced by: Tracey E. Edmonds , Glendon Palmer, Elizabeth Hunter, T.D. Jakes,
Michael Mahoney, Curtis Wallace
Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Meagan Good, Mike Epps, Tasha Smith, DeRay Davis, Gary Dourdan, Pooch Hall, & Lil' Romeo
The reality of the “mainstream” Hollywood film business is based on economics. No matter how good a film is artistically, success is measured in dollars by the big studios. We may not like that stark truth but if we play in that ball game, we’ve got to follow the established rules or come up with another ingenious way to generate box-office dollars. Anger at the system may be justified but it doesn’t help the situation. What does help is supporting films like JUMPING THE BROOM by vigorously encouraging everyone you know to attend the film in the theatre the first weekend it opens.
We should not just rely on the few companies that are willing to distribute black films, as discussed by super producers Tracey Edmonds and Glendon Palmer. We must also continue to find other ways of exhibiting our work through independent channels. The more routes we cultivate the more exposure these types of films will attain.
Story-wise JUMPING THE BROOM is about a young woman from an affluent black family who marries a working class man at her family’s estate in Martha’s Vineyard. The groom has been reluctant to introduce his family, especially his mother, to the bride’s family. And with good reason---the mother, wonderfully inhabited by Loretta Devine, is over-protective of her son and manipulative. The great trick the film pulls off is to explain why the woman is the way she is and not paint her with the nasty brush but rather sketch in the details of her humanity stroking the canvas with equal parts pathos, humor, and anger issues. The bride’s mother, played pitch-perfect by Angela Basset, is no less complex. She is entitled, picky, protective of her daughter, dignified, and also funny. Rounding out the very believable ensemble are Mike Epps as the groom’s philosophical-ol’school playa uncle, Valerie Petiford as Geneva, the bride’s aunt with a secret that could ruin the day, Lil’ Romeo as a cougar-hunting cousin, and Tasha Smith as the bride’s mother’s BFF and aforementioned cougar. Paula Patton, gorgeous beyond belief (let me take a moment to wipe away the drool), finally gets to flex her considerable comedic chops as the impulsive bride and Laz Alonzo acquits himself very well as the handsome, put-upon groom. One other great performance came from a personal friend I haven’t seen in years: Brian Stokes Mitchell. He plays Angela Basset’s husband and father of the bride in a subtle, yet very moving manner. Brian and I are both born on Halloween and hail from San Diego where we started in theatre. He’s an extraordinary multi-talented artist that we see much too little of in film. (Holla at your boy, Stokes, I got some work for you!)
The look of the film was very refreshing. For once we are treated to black folk in an elegant but believable setting filled with greens, earth-tones and off-whites. There was a real rustic feeling that yielded a great contrast to the turmoil and angst that goes on at any wedding. Salim Akil was able to strike just the right notes of humor and self-reflection without being preachy or false. Ditto the cinematography and fantastic editing by Terilyn A. Shropshire.
Elizabeth Hunter’s script followed a traditional romantic comedy arc but gave us just enough surprises to keep it fresh. The danger with romantic comedies is we see the end coming from the beginning. How do you keep an audience interested? You add details that resonate with truth. After a screening I asked Elizabeth if a certain minor character got together with another certain minor character in an earlier draft. She said, “No.” I’m glad because in real life those characters would have never ended up together and the script, from its inception, contained those kinds of truths which weren’t sacrificed on the altar of commerciality. There’s nothing wrong with the standard romantic comedy template---except, we’ve seen it a million times. What we haven’t seen a million times before is the intricacies of the journey and struggles to get to that new understanding of love. This is what makes JUMPING THE BROOM a skip in the right direction.
Ron Covington is a former Disney and Cosby Writing Fellow. Currently with two TV projects and a stage musical in development, he’s added executive producer to his skill set.