To describe the primary conflict in “Our Family Wedding” as a culture clash would be an understatement. Hitching a Mexican-American bride and her African-American groom to a noisy and increasingly tiresome family feud, this broad ethnic farce serves up a full-on culture collision, but — thanks to a handful of diverting performers — stops just short of becoming a train wreck. Though it feels mostly old and borrowed, helmer Rick Famuyiwa’s third and least subtle minority-centric feature (following “The Wood” and “Brown Sugar”) offers enough comfort-food familiarity to collect B.O. bouquets, primarily from black and Latino audiences.
As scripted by Wayne Conley, Malcolm Spellman and Famuyiwa, “Our Family Wedding” initially seems to unfold in a lighter-hearted version of the Los Angeles depicted in Paul Haggis’ “Crash” — a city where narrative coincidences and racial insults run equally rampant. In an early scene, radio talkshow personality Brad Boyd (Forest Whitaker), having carelessly left his car parked downtown overnight, gets into a heated altercation with tow-truck driver Miguel Ramirez (Carlos Mencia). Naturally, it’s not long before Brad and Miguel meet again and receive the unpleasant news that they’re soon going to be related: Brad’s son, Marcus (Lance Gross), is engaged to Miguel’s daughter, Lucia (America Ferrera).
Once the shock — if not the displeasure — wears off, Brad and Miguel try to assert their equally strong personalities by exercising control over the wedding plans. Gritting their teeth and repeatedly telling themselves, “Our marriage, their wedding,” Marcus and Lucia put up with their dads’ shenanigans, as what they intended to be a quickie ceremony balloons into a lavish bicultural blowout. Meanwhile, Marcus urges Lucia to tell her father and mother (Diana Maria Riva) that she dropped out of law school and plans to move overseas with Marcus after they’re married.
Working in a flat, brightly lit visual style (enlivened somewhat by scenic views of L.A. and a soundtrack of smooth-and-sultry tunes by Transcenders), Famuyiwa seems to have directed his thesps to fill almost every scene with improvised bickering. Words like “bro” and “hombre” are delivered with calculated hostility, but dueling ethnicities aren’t the only source of tension here. Pic also sets up conflicts between parents’ expectations and children’s dreams, between the Ramirezes’ conservative family values and Brad’s glamorous alternative lifestyle — all of which are ultimately reconciled with a symmetrical tidiness more befitting a wedding cake than a dramatic feature.
Black audiences in particular may take issue with the portrayal of Whitaker’s Brad as a loose, swingin’ bachelor with little connection to his roots, in marked contrast to the tightly knit, tradition-loving Ramirez clan. It’s hard not to assume that Famuyiwa, as a black filmmaker, felt the need to be more respectful — and more representational — in his approach to his Latino characters, even if they are ultimately no less bound by storytelling convention. Black or brown, young or old, married or single, “Our Family Wedding” traffics cheerfully if inoffensively in equal-opportunity cliches.
Though straitjacketed by the role of a young woman struggling to be her own person, Ferrera still retains her onscreen sparkle — especially compared with co-star Gross, who is given no notes to play beyond quiet and virtuous. Whitaker and Mencia pick up some of the slack with boisterous perfs, eventually prevailing over their infelicitous dialogue to become an ingratiating comic duo, while Anjelah Johnson scores some decent lines as Lucia’s sarcastic younger sister.
Most appealing turn by far arrives courtesy of Regina King, refreshingly down-to-earth as Brad’s longtime lawyer/love interest, Angela; Taye Diggs (who starred in Famuyiwa’s other two features) and Charlie Murphy pop up briefly as Brad’s buddies.
Pic could have done without the scene in which Lucia’s outspoken grandmother (a predictably over-the-top Lupe Ontiveros) orders a live goat for an authentic Mexican wedding dish, only to have the beast run amuck — at which point the entire ensemble bursts into laughter, presumably to save the audience the trouble.