Jean has arrived in her family hometown on the day of their father’s funeral, where she meets up with her cop brother Richard and the rest of her dysfunctional family.
Their father’s final wish is to have his ashes scattered in the town’s river. But dumping cremains is illegal, and Richard will have to arrest Jean if she does it. The rest of the family is difficult in other ways, including her aunt and her stepmother. And it’s looking more and more like Pappy’s funeral may devolve into a fiasco.
Written by Andrea J. Millard and directed by Nell Teare, this acerbic family dramedy is about reckoning with the complex legacy of a dysfunctional parent, particularly by two siblings who had different experiences with their father.
Told with welcoming visual warmth and well-paced rhythm, the narrative is structured as a convergence story, when disparate and possibly explosive elements come together. Many family stories revolve around reunions, weddings and funerals — occasions with high expectations and emotional stakes, with each character bringing in their perspective and baggage. The dialogue and writing ably fold in layers of family history and relationships, efficiently setting the stage before letting the sparks fly.
The tension does come to a head, as personalities scrape up against one another. The aunt and stepmom are both sharp and eccentric characters, played for broad comedy. But more importantly, Richard also has a deep grudge against his father, who was an abusive alcoholic for much of his childhood. He doesn’t want to honor his father’s life, which Jean can’t understand.
“Grey’s Anatomy” actor Samantha Sloyan anchors the film as Jean, functioning as the family’s moral center just trying to have a good funeral for her father. She nails the layers of love and exasperation that feel relatable to anyone with a family, which provides moments of comedy in her dealings with the family members. The journey of the two siblings to understand one another’s perspective is the warm emotional arc of the short, and when Jean gives voice to Richard’s experience, it offers a moment for the family to come together — which ignites a rollicking course to the film’s farcical yet warmhearted conclusion.
Empathetic, funny and humane, “Pappy Hour” actually begs for a longer story to further explore the characters and their relationships. It draws on rich dramatic territory, as many people can relate to reckoning with the legacy of an imperfect parent. As Jean and her brother learn, sometimes resolution and peace won’t come from the parent. Instead, it comes from having their point-of-view heard, honored and understood as part of the family history.