Jumping the Broom (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Sabrina (Paula Patton) was sick of sleeping with men who looked good but only equipped with half a brain, so she made a deal with god: If she found the man she was meant to settle down with, she would stop substituting sex for feelings of intimacy. While driving, she accidentally hit Jason (Laz Alonso). After knowing each other for only six months, they decided to get married. One problem: their families were to meet for the first time only a day prior to the wedding. Based on the screenplay by Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs, “Jumping the Broom” may have fallen over some pitfalls common to the wedding day subgenre, but I enjoyed it because it had something important to say about the divide between the rich and working class African-Americans. Sabrina came from a lavish lifestyle but Jason had to work his way up. The writers were fair to both parties and it was made clear that it was okay, even necessary, for us to judge them. Mrs. Watson (Angela Bassett), Sabrina’s mom, despite her attempts to mask the fact, looked down on Jason’s background. If she had an ounce of respect, she would have called Mrs. Taylor (Loretta Devine), Jason’s mom, when she needed a favor instead of sending an impersonal text. But Mrs. Taylor wasn’t free from certain prejudices. She was threatened by big houses, yachts, and Ivy League education. She coped with her fear by shutting down and not giving Sabrina’s family a chance to prove that there was more to them than expensive properties. Bassett and Devine were wonderful in their roles because they portrayed strong women with even stronger convictions. The film was at its best when it focused on their feelings of inadequacies and facing uncertainties. The arguments, though they contained a range of hilarity, was painful at their core because a future between two people who genuinely loved one another was at stake. I wasn’t always sure if the couple would end up together in the end or they would just call it quits. I liked that it kept me guessing. While I adored a handful of the supporting characters, for instance, Julie Bowen as the nervous wedding planner and Tasha Smith as Mrs. Taylor’s co-worker and best friend, there were others who simply served as hollow decoration. For example, Meagan Good as an uppity maid of honor with a specific taste in men served more like a distraction from the conflict between the two families. She was neither funny nor interesting. Being a maid of honor, a rather important person in weddings, I expected her to be there for the bride when she hit rock bottom. Instead, she had her eye on the chef (Gary Dourdan). “Jumping the Broom,” though it succumbed to typicalities, captured the difficulties of uniting vastly disparate families. With every broken tradition and expectation, there was pain, anger, regret. But, as with families who love unconditionally, there was room for forgiveness, too.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Smart but quick-tempered Tre (Desi Arnez Hines II) had gotten into another fight at school. Reva (Angela Bassett), Tre’s mother, thought it would be a good idea for him to live with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), in South Central Los Angeles while she finished her Master’s degree. Although Reva and Furious lived separately for unstated reasons, she was convinced that Furious would be able to teach his son, despite living in crime- and poverty-stricken neighborhood, what it meant to be a man. Written and directed by John Singleton, “Boyz n the Hood” is an excellent film for the family, especially young people from self-destructive families or neighborhoods who want to seek an alternative and go after what they want out of life, whether it be a fancy career or as simple as preserving one’s life because it’s too valuable a thing to waste. You might think I’m crazy for considering this as a family film because the picture was more than welcoming in showing drugs, sex, and violence. But that’s what I loved about it. Its defiance to sugarcoat reality, by highlighting the effects of drugs, sex, and violence, made it an efficient and honest portrayal of a life that was and, sadly, still. The script brimmed with optimism. It underlined the importance of parents and their role in shaping their child. The series of interactions between Furious and Tre (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. as a high school senior) were at times sensitive, occasionally amusing, and consistently realistic. Life lessons were imparted but they were never hammy. The effects of the parenting flew under the radar until the key moments when we were forced to wonder if what Furious taught his son were enough for the teenager to feel secure about himself and make decisions for himself. I appreciated that parenting was portrayed like a map and it was up to the child to notice certain landmarks and choose which lines to traverse. Movies with less vision, ambition, and specific voice had proven that it’s too easy to get it wrong. By focusing on choices, the message was clear: there’s more to life than shooting people, making others feel bad about themselves, becoming unplanned parents, and drowning oneself in booze and drugs. The picture respected its African-American characters. Although a lot of them were jive-talking, the characters weren’t written sloppily. They had motivations. Ricky (Morris Chestnut), Tre’s best friend, wanted to get a football scholarship so he could go to college and provide for his family. A lot of us could easily relate to the reasons behind his drive. More importantly, some of their motivations may seem empty to us. One of many reasons was the fact that most of us never had or will never have the experience to live in a similar environment as them. Singleton’s direction proved critical because he had a way of placing and moving the camera so that we could at least get a sense of where the characters were coming from each time they were given a chance to speak. For instance, Doughboy (Ice Cube) had been in and out of jail. He hung out with his crew with not much of a desire to break out of their habits. By providing several sequences as they chatted while playing video games on the couch, gambling in the backyard, and relaxing on the patio, we could surmise that individually they felt they had nothing but as a group they felt they had a form of brotherhood. “Boyz n the Hood” was also about responsibility and what it entails. Just because you’re from a less than desirable background, it doesn’t mean that you’re helpless or that you’re powerless to change the course of your own life as well as those around you. The scary thing is that anyone can, for better or worse.
This Means War (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
After FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), best friends and partners at work, turned a supposed covert assignment into a public catastrophe, their boss in the CIA (Angela Bassett) relegated them away from field work. During their time off, Tuck thought it would be a great idea to join an online dating service and see women. Luckily for him, Trish (Chelsea Handler) clandestinely created a profile for Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) because she thought her friend could use a man in her life. Eventually, though, Lauren decided to see both FDR and Tuck because she was the kind of girl who liked having options before settling for a product. “This Means War,” directed by McG, had a ridiculous premise which almost worked because its early scenes were full of swagger. Unfortunately, as it went on, it couldn’t be denied that there wasn’t much to the story and Witherspoon as a blonde Barbie was not only unsympathetic, she was not funny. Pine and Hardy had wonderful chemistry and the screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg capitalized on their characters’ opposite qualities. FDR’s softer facial features was a nice contrast against his blasé playboy lifestyle. He was so slick, he even had a swimming pool elegantly, mesmerizingly placed on his apartment ceiling. On the other hand, Tuck’s more angular features provided an interesting incongruity to his more sensitive side. Having a young son and a passive-aggressive ex-wife, it was very easy to root for Tuck to find some sort of happiness in his personal life. When FDR and Tuck were together, there was a natural bromance that oozed out of their verbal sparring, a very fun, funky energy that reminded me of how it was like to be with my best friend. Because the two were so charming in their own right, scenes that might have been creepy, like the two breaking into Lauren’s home to know more about her and use the knowledge they had acquired to gain an advantage in the dating scenarios, had a playfulness to them. Sadly, Lauren was as boring as a cardboard cutout. The writers injected neuroses in her in order to convince us that she had a semblance of a personality, but not only did her quirks not come off as amusing, it felt almost desperate. It seemed like in every point where she had to make a decision, she consulted Trish. Lauren had a fancy job in downtown L.A. but how come she couldn’t she think for herself? Trish had the funniest lines and Handler was more than capable of reaching a certain level of energy to deliver the punchlines. I wish the picture was more about her. In the middle of it, I began to wonder how the movie could have been more interesting if the two handsome bachelors tried to win Trish’ affections even if she was happily married most of the time. There was a subplot involving Heinrich (Til Schweiger), a person of interest in the eyes of the CIA, wanting revenge for the death of his brother but, like Lauren, it was just so banal. The action scenes were very uninspired, almost unnecessary. “This Means War” was an innocuous romp that desperately needed edge in order to keep its audience on their toes, to feel like we were active participants in the charade. Since pretty much everything was so safe, I noticed that there were times when my eyes began to gloss over out of the dreariness happening on screen.