Beyond authentic depiction, “Easter Sunday” is a cartoonish, undercooked mess.
One of the most successful stand-ups in the country with several Netflix specials to her name, Jo Koy has entertained millions with stories about her Filipino upbringing. He regales sold-out crowds with stories of his charming and somewhat overbearing mother, unpacks the intricacies of Filipino cuisine and lifestyle, and analyzes the differences between different Asian cultures.
Now he’s given his take on ‘Easter Sunday,’ a new comedy starring Koy as Joe Valencia, a version of himself, who returns to the Bay Area for the eponymous holiday for s take care of his extended Filipino family. It is the first major studio comedy about a Filipino-American family with an almost all-Filipino cast, and was brought to the screen with the help of Steven Spielberg, an avowed fan of Koy’swhich DreamWorks Pictures co-produced the film.
Billed as a “love letter to the Filipino-American community,” “Easter Sunday” certainly earns its bona fides to uplift a historically underrepresented community on the big screen. Koy’s stand-up routines and personal life clearly inspired many of the film‘s family details, from food to petty bickering to Joe’s family filling a box of balikbayan (a care package sent to the Philippines by Filipinos from ‘overseas). Koy’s mother, a huge influence on his stand-up, feels intensely represented in Lydia Gaston’s performance as Joe’s mother, a domineering but ultimately generous presence in the film. There is a concerted effort by Koy, screenwriters Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng, and director Jay Chandrasekhar to portray and validate the experiences of Filipino Americans for mainstream audiences.
Unfortunately, those noble intentions don’t suddenly make “Easter Sunday” any less sloppy or unfunny. While the relationships between Joe and his family are rooted in specific, real-life details, they serve an overly broad and random story involving far too many narrative threads. These include Joe and his cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero) trying to pawn a stolen pair of gloves from Manny Pacquiao while avoiding their maniacal owner, a feud between Valencia’s mother and his aunt Tita Theresa (Tia Carrere, playing including a Filipina for the first time in a career spent playing different ethnicities), the strained relationship between Joe and his son (Brandon Wardell) and a potential sitcom deal that could fall apart if Joe doesn’t agree to play a role. with a stereotypical accent. Although the script dutifully checks these subplots every 15 minutes or so, they don’t mesh or end in any meaningful way. In the end, these are just things that happen.
“Easter Sunday” might have taken on that heavy narrative weight had more jokes landed, but the movie stumbles in that regard as well. Admittedly, it could play very differently if you’re already in the tank for Koy’s comedy, but without it much of the humor is too broad or cheesy. There are plenty of standout faces, community shoutouts and one-liners about Filipino culture clearly ripped off Koy’s stand-up (“See all that fog? It’s from all the Filipinos in Daly City using their rice cookers at the same time. “) . There are a few minor positives here and there, like Chandrasekhar appearing as Joe’s agent on the phone almost literally in a performance where he delivers multiple variations on a single joke, i.e. pretending to blame Joe that he’s in a bad reception area as an excuse to hang up on him. Likewise, Tiffany Haddish also makes an appearance so she can take control of the film for about five minutes, and Lou Diamond Phillips, another famous Filipino who rose to fame playing Mexican-American roles, briefly introduced himself. as himself to deliver a few jokes. It’s a rich tapestry of slightly amusing bits filling a paper-thin film.
Part of the problem is the film’s vain impulses. Granted, “Easter Sunday” is a Jo Koy vehicle, but the film’s script and Chandrasekhar’s direction go out of their way to flatter the fictionalized version of the comedian too much. There are a few early scenes where Joe does or says something hypothetically funny and there’s either a reaction shot of someone laughing or the shot itself shows people laughing in the background. At one point, “Easter Sunday” comes to a screeching halt for Joe to embark on a stand-up routine at his family’s church that’s so loud, at least judging by the laughs (real and maybe crazy), that people empty their wallets into the collection plate. Even the fake beer ad featuring Joe whose strangers torture him with a catchphrase (a cheap imitation of a similarly improved joke in the “Party Down” series) essentially serves to illustrate that Joe is hugely popular. Although Joe is burdened by his mother’s brutal disapproval and Eugene’s terrible business plans (in this case, a “ad truck”, a phrase repeated over and over by Cordero) and his son’s irritation at his work-related absences, the characters of “Easter Sunday” go out of their way to express the greatness of Joe, and by extension Jo Koy.
Perhaps that’s the price of admission for a movie built around Koy’s life, and he’s busily playing to an already comic book-loving audience. But such transparent motivation makes any conflict or dramatic stakes that could potentially arise from such a film preemptively light. We know that Joe and his mother will come to terms with some of their past arguments and both will come to a renewed understanding of each other. We know that Joe’s mom and Tita Theresa will eventually reconcile, though I guess I couldn’t predict that would happen during a karaoke performance of the Black Eyed Peas hit “I Gotta Feeling” in 2009. ( Incidentally, apl.de.ap, a member of the Black Eyed Peas, is half-Filipino.) We know that Joe’s son will eventually come to understand that his father does his best and that no professional success will ever be worth betraying. your roots and this family. support each other even though they can drive us crazy, and so on. Each narrative beat feels both hyper-calculated and half-crazy, as if the main goal is simply to get all the major Filipino players available into a room and figure it out from there.
“Easter Sunday” suffers from various other ailments, minor and major: a bland visual palette and bewildering editing pacing, which cannot be fully explained by the COVID production; an inexplicable car chase, which seems to exist to highlight visual comparisons between Koy and Vin Diesel (they’re both bald, you see); and a half-hearted focus on the industry’s short-sighted racism, with drawn punches and outdated details. Still, the film’s overall laziness is its most disappointing element. Each performer expresses genuine enthusiasm to be on screen with other Filipino actors, but their joy is marred by a cartoonish story that squanders its honest core. “Easter Sunday” will likely appeal to Koy’s fan base and perhaps anyone who wants to find entertainment suitable for grandmas and kids, but everyone else might find it lacking.
“Easter Sunday” is in theaters now.