Filipino-Americans receive welcome screen representation in stand-up comedian Jo Koy’s starring cinematic debut about a family holiday celebration. As well they should, since similar films have revolved around Jewish, Black, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Italian and families of virtually every other group you can imagine. It seems only fair that Easter Sunday should provide them the opportunity to take center stage in the sort of chaotic-family-gathering comedy that simultaneously inspires howls of recognition and cringes of embarrassment.
The film, directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers, The Dukes of Hazzard), revolves around Koy’s character, Joe Valencia, a struggling L.A.-based actor who’s managed to score at least one success, becoming known for the catchphrase “Let’s get this party started!” in a beer commercial that everyone seems to have seen. Joe is now up for a starring role in a sitcom, but a network executive insists that he play his character with, as they delicately put it, “a half-Filipino accent.”
The Bottom Line
Family comedy of the strained variety.
“That’s what this is,” Joe replies, referring to his natural speaking voice.
As the title indicates, the story takes place during Easter weekend, for which Joe travels with his teenage son Junior (Brandon Wardell) to Daly City, the northern California town where his mother Lydia (Susan Gaston) resides. Numerous family troubles soon become evident, from Lydia’s bitter rivalry with her sister (Tia Carrere) to his cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero) being in hock to the tune of $40,000 to a local gangster wannabe (Asif Ali). Another significant plot element involves the boxing gloves worn by Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao in his bout with Oscar De La Hoya, which are treated like a holy relic.
The screenplay by Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo delivers plenty of broad, raucous humor incorporating many elements of Filipino culture, from its food (the mouth-watering dishes on display should inspire viewers to seek out their nearest Filipino restaurant) to the Balikbayan boxes containing gifts that are sent to friends and family back home.
Unfortunately, the interesting cultural elements are undercut by the cartoonish dialogue, characterizations and situations, which even manage to include a high-speed car chase that leads to an unfunny scene in which Joe is awkwardly reunited with his bitter ex-girlfriend, now a cop (Tiffany Haddish, who seems to be making these sorts of cameos a career specialty).
A particularly strained running gag involves Joe’s frequent phone calls with his agent (played by director Chandrasekhar, who appears to be enjoying himself too much), which invariably get cut short by the agent pretending to lose his cell signal. A lengthy scene set during a church service mainly provides the contrived opportunity for Koy to deliver a short version of his stand-up act. And the cameo by Lou Diamond Philips proves an unamusing example of yet another famous performer good-naturedly playing a less than flattering version of themself (as if anyone could top Neil Patrick Harris’ hilariously self-lacerating turns in the Harold & Kumar films).
Even worse are the strained attempts at heartfelt emotion, from Junior’s burgeoning romance with a young woman (a charming Eva Noblezada) who turns out to be the voice of reason to the inevitable reconciliation between the mother and aunt, which leads to an exuberant karaoke session.
Easter Sunday earns points for its cultural bona fides, its loving portrait of the community it celebrates and its almost entirely Filipino and Asian-American casting. And Koy reveals himself to be a likable screen presence deserving of more starring roles. But it falls hopelessly flat in its comedic aspirations, more closely resembling the sort of bland network sitcom to which its main character aspires. And while being released in the summertime may have worked for the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, the unfortunate timing in this case does the film no favors.