First Sunday
A Pleasant January Surprise

Although First Sunday will not garner much attention as far as awards, it is a film that can definitely feel proud and hold its head up. Following hot on the heels of the well-intentioned and talent-stocked but disastrous The Perfect Holiday, First Sunday redeems all the sad aspects of Holiday and proves that African American filmmaking is alive and well and respectful of the target audience.

Durell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) are two life-long friends who have grown up in the ’hood in Baltimore, Maryland. They have both served time for petty crimes and just don’t seem able to grow up and become productive members of society. Durell desperately wants to find a job he can keep and make a decent living doing, but his past (combined with the childish antics of LeeJohn, who doesn’t care where he gets his money as long as he doesn’t get caught) keeps holding him back. At least, that’s Durell’s take on the matter.

Ice Cube as Durell in First SundayThe conflict of the film revolves around Durell’s need for $17,000 to keep his ex-wife and son from leaving Baltimore to begin a new life in Atlanta. At the same time, LeeJohn needs $120,000 to repay some gang bangers who gave him twelve stolen wheelchairs to deliver to a fence and that he subsequently lost in a high-speed chase with the police. Incidentally, Durell was along for the ride and so was also implicated in the crime. The friends discover a church in the neighborhood that has raised almost $300,000 and they decide to steal the money. While attempting the robbery, Durell and LeeJohn become involved with members of the church who affect and direct the outcome of their lives in surprising ways.

Okay, I’ll admit that this film is broadly formulaic and full of stereotypes; but David E. Talbert (director, screenwriter, and among the producers) has plenty of talent and deserves recognition and attention for it. First Sunday is genuinely honest, at moments vastly amusing, and finally, delivers on not just one theme, but several.

Ice Cube does a very good job playing the main character, Durell. Except for some problems here and there with diction and mumbled lines, I found him to be a very believable picture of a character attempting to overturn the usual stereotype of the absent deadbeat Black dad who is either a criminal or a gangsta. Durell wants to be a part of his son’s life and also wants to be a positive role model. Usher in the first theme: not all Black men ditch their families leaving their children fatherless.

Talbert then moves to the character flaw that keeps Durell from becoming the man that he really wants to be—martyrdom. Durell is too eager to accept that he is a victim and doesn’t see any way to change until Momma T (elegantly played by Olivia Cole), one of the church members, gets in his face and proves to him that he makes the choices for himself, not anyone or anything else.

Finally, overarching and tying the whole business together are the themes of forgiveness and redemption; and although on paper it sounds sappy, Talbert writes it and directs it in such a way that it works and leaves the viewer with no sense of being manipulated. The audience I screened First Sunday with was diverse—mostly African American, but with a fair representation of Asians, Whites, and Latinos. The age range ran from under ten to past 60 and with a good mixture of economic ranges represented. (Granted, this would be a guess since visual observation can be misleading.) And the film generally seemed to work across the board.

From the looks of the film and the quality of the acting, Talbert and his co-producers worked hard to put together a very good cast. A true delight was seeing Katt Williams in a full supporting role—and so soon after we were given a taste of his talent in the The Perfect Holiday. In the prior role he had limited screen time but was the only persona worth praising in the entire film and kept it from being a complete bomb. In First Sunday he is hilarious and a master of comedic delivery. Other standout performances come from Loretta Divine, Keith Davis, and Chi McBride; Regina Hall and Melinda Williams each do an excellent job of portraying strong African American young women without overacting and becoming Black Panther feminists. The ensemble blends together well and Talbert uses the camera effectively to bring the audience into each character’s point of view.

The first five minutes of the film are a little difficult as the sound quality isn’t the best and competes with the opening titles. Characters appear and try to have dialogue while competing with the hubbub of street noise and the music of the soundtrack. Fortunately, this resolves itself quickly, so be forewarned and don’t judge too quickly. First Sunday offers good values, moral themes, and a good story. It is a refreshing surprise for the beginning of a new entertainment year.

First Sunday is rated PG-13 for “language, some sexual humor, and brief drug references.” The rating is right on. This is not a children’s film, but older teens and adults will thoroughly enjoy it without ears being overly offended or have their eyeballs scalded in their sockets.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Kathy attended a promotional screening of First Sunday.