One enters a movie like Our Family Wedding bracing for cheesiness.
As a genre, wedding films are typically about as cloying as two hours worth of kitten videos on YouTube. Add in the equally checkered history of stridently ethnic movies, and you might want to start asking moviegoers to remove their belts before entering the theater.
But as Rick Famuyiwa's Our Family Wedding — which combines both elements — moves along, the fingers in front of one's eyes (usually a shield reserved for horror films) slowly part. The realization dawns that Famuyiwa has made a mostly charming movie despite its cliche milieu.
The performances help.
And the center is America Ferrera (as Lucia) and Lance Gross (as Marcus), a young couple in college in New York who return home to their families in Los Angeles to break the news that they're engaged.
Neither family — one Latino, the other black — much like the decision. Miguel Ramirez (Carlos Mencia), Lucia's father, and Brad Boyd (Forest Whitaker), Marcus' dad, quickly become rivals.
To be sure, there are plenty of predictable jokes reliant on stereotypes. But Our Family Wedding often smacks of real people.
As the families feud, they use racial stereotypes less as a crutch for identity than a means for sarcasm, self-deprecation, and — if at all possible — ammo against their potential new in-laws.
Insisting that the wedding also include African-American traditions, Whitaker temporarily draws a blank before remembering the custom of the bride and groom jumping over a broom stick.
Whitaker's Brad is a radio DJ and an aging playboy. Mencia's Miguel is — as all fathers of the bride are in movies — overprotective. Though both are somewhat outlandish, neither sinks to cartoon level — always a threat for the comic Mencia.
A number of characters hover on the outside: Regina King as a longtime family friend; Lupe Ontiveros as an over-the-top, conservative grandmother; Anjelah Johnson as Lucia's droll sister, and Diana Maria Riva as Lucia's mother.
As friends of the bridegroom, Charlie Murphy and Taye Diggs make a brief, funny appearance for an argument over marriage as either "sex on the regular" or "marital Guantanamo."
Unfortunately, "Our Family Wedding" loses its balance around the time the goat gets loose and eats a bunch of Viagra. Still, though cheesiness is all around, it never quite penetrates Our Family Wedding.
Famuyiwa (who directed Brown Sugar and The Wood) opens the film in a way coincidentally similar to the recent romantic comedy Valentine's Day: A DJ (Whitaker) spins a tune dedicated to lovers on Valentine's Day.
Our Family Wedding is significantly better than that utterly artificial film. It's not as overstuffed, it has authentic quiet moments, and it has better music too: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings kick off a soundtrack of Daptone soul.