Black, brown, bad all over

Our Family Wedding

Forrest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia, together at last?

Forrest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia, together at last?

Rated 2.0

It’s no fun for a critic, beating up on a piddling little cipher of a movie like Our Family Wedding; it makes you feel like a bully kicking sand in the eyes of a 98-pound weakling on the beach. But when you have to turn in a certain number of words, even on a movie as unimportant as this, what’s a fellow to do?

The movie’s pivotal couple are Lucia (America Ferrera) and Marcus (Lance Gross). They’ve been living together for two years but never told their families back home in Los Angeles, because she’s Mexican-American and he’s African-American; besides, she promised her father Miguel (Carlos Mencia) that she’d finish law school, and her mother Sonia (Diana-Maria Riva) that she’d stay a virgin until marriage.

That last point, at least, is about to become moot, because Lucia and Marcus are planning to get married in three weeks, after which she will join him in a tour of duty with Doctors Without Borders in Laos. Lucia, having dropped out of law school to become a teacher, hasn’t told her folks about that, either. Now, at long last, the couple are on their way to Los Angeles to break the news all in one fell swoop.

Our first hint of what’s ahead comes when Marcus’ father Brad (Forest Whitaker) gets his car towed from a no-parking zone, and the tow-truck driver is none other than Miguel. Needless to say, this first encounter does not go well, and neither does their more formal introduction that same evening, when they join their respective offspring for dinner.

It also doesn’t sit well with Lucia’s family when the womanizing Brad’s date for the evening turns out to be a childhood friend of Lucia’s. Mainly, of course, what really doesn’t sit well, especially with Miguel, is the fact that Marcus is black and not Catholic, while the fact that Lucia is not black doesn’t sit well with Brad. These two bigoted jackasses carry their clash over the towing incident through the following weeks, until Marcus and Lucia begin to wonder if this whole marriage thing is such a hot idea after all.

Are we having fun yet?

The script for Our Family Wedding is credited to Wayne Conley, Malcolm Spellman and director Rick Famuyiwa, the three names linked by the telltale “and” mandated by Screen Writers Guild rules, indicating an absence of collaboration. What probably happened: Conley wrote the first script, which the producers then turned over to Spellman for a rewrite, and finally Famuwiya, either before or during shooting, took his own (probably desperate) whack at it.

Given the short-term memory in today’s Hollywood, they may actually think (if they gave their script any thought at all, and that’s a big if) that they invented something. But the premise goes way back—through Bridget Loves Bernie and the Cohens and the Kellys, all the way to Abie’s Irish Rose by Anne Nichols, one of the worst plays ever written—which ran five years on Broadway and 40 years on tour.

The brilliant innovation of Famuyiwa and company is to replace Jews and Irish with blacks and Hispanics on the interethnic battlefield. Still, the framework is the same, and the great Robert Benchley made a remark about Abie’s Irish Rose that applies equally to Our Family Wedding: “Showing that the Jews and the Irish crack equally old jokes.”

And what old jokes they are, even when we haven’t heard them before. When Lucia announces that she and Marcus are moving to Laos, Miguel asks, “Laos what? Laos Angeles? Laos Vegas?” (Ra-ta-ta-boom!) To give credit where it’s due, however, Our Family Wedding does include at least one joke—the wannabe-side-splitting goat-on-Viagra scene—that certainly never occurred to Anne Nichols.

Unfortunately, but inevitably, Famuyiwa never gets this boulder rolling fast enough to keep its carpet of ancient moss from showing. All that’s left to the helplessly trapped audience is to wonder why stars like Whitaker and Ferrara (not to mention the criminally wasted Regina King as Whitaker’s lawyer) bothered with it; did they need the work to retain their union health care?

Don’t bother with Our Family Wedding. If you’re curious, go to the Internet Movie Database and watch the trailer; it’s free, it tells the whole story, and it’ll waste less of your time.