Film review: ‘Easter Sunday’ is a loving ode to Filipino culture

A boisterous extended clan gathers for a family vacation, pitching the necessary arguments, hurt feelings, grudges, inside jokes, laughter, love, reconciliation and lots of food, plus maybe a car chase.

What’s different in ‘Easter Sunday,’ a light-hearted yet overly broad family comedy-drama starring comedian Jo Koy, is that this extended clan is a Filipino-American family and the cast is almost all Filipino, with some family actors ultimately cast. as Filipino characters. that in itself is a welcome achievement, especially for Koy, whose life is clearly reflected here and who anchors the company with winning charm. The writing could surely be sharper and the ending is more than a little corny. But this is an undeniable step forward for representation on the big screen.

Koy clearly channels much of his own story in this, his feature film debut, drawing on his hugely popular stand-up comedy (Jay Chandrasekhar directs from a screenplay by Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng). He plays Joe Valencia, a Los Angeles comedian seeking his big break as an actor in Hollywood, just as he is navigating family issues on multiple fronts, all coming to a head on Easter Sunday.

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Eugene Cordero, Jo Koy and Lou Diamond Phillips.
Image credit: AP

We meet Joe, a divorced father, on a day of conflicting obligations. His son Junior (a sweetly goofy Brandon Wardell) needs his presence at a school meeting to talk about mediocre grades. His own demanding mother, Susan (Lydia Gaston, who combines commanding, demanding, loving and needy) calls him constantly, making sure he’s on the right track for the Easter celebrations. And he’s auditioning for a sitcom, something that will take him beyond that beer commercial in which he’s famous for the line, “Let’s get this party started, baby!”

Joe (unsurprisingly) misses the school reunion but auditions, only to be told that they love him but want a “half-Filipino accent” even though it’s an accent he doesn’t have. “This show just wants a fun-sounding Filipino,” he complains to his agent, who tells him to suck it up and put on the accent. (The agent is played, with a wink, by director Chandrasekhar as a guy who always drives suspiciously through tunnels and loses his cell phone signal.)

Easter Sunday arrives and Joe heads down the California coast to Daly City and the Filipino-American neighborhood where his mother and sister, Teresa (Tia Carrere, who has said this is her first Filipino role in a career of 40 years), they are each planning festive meals. They are also fighting over one thing or another. It doesn’t help that the two women wear the exact same dress to church (yes, that old joke). Much funnier is their fierce competition for balikbayan boxes full of gifts to send to the family back home.

As the holiday festivities roll on apace and Joe tries to keep his sitcom prospects alive, several subplots come into play. One involves Joe’s lovable but foolhardy cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero) and his ill-conceived business endeavors, which brings him and Joe into potentially deadly conflict with armed thug Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali) and brings them together, improbably. . , with Filipino American star Lou Diamond Phillips, playing himself.

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Jo Koy and Tiffany Haddish.
Image credit: AP

There’s also a brief run-in with the law during a car chase, the law being none other than Tiffany Haddish, in a cameo as Vanessa, Joe’s ex with a grinding ax and, now, a police badge.

Haddish is, unsurprisingly, quite funny. Less welcome is the whole slapsticky criminal gang subplot that detracts from the more humane themes. Speaking of humanity, the lovely Eva Noblezada casts him wonderfully as Tala, a romantic interest for Junior: a confident young woman who teaches the Los Angeles-raised boy some of the values ​​about family he learned in Daly City.

If you’re a fan of Broadway, you may know Noblesse from ‘Hadestown’, in which her great singing talents, shown here for a few seconds, are on full display. (Couldn’t they have given it more beats?) Noblesse’s spontaneous delivery makes her scenes the highlight in a film that, by and large, relies too heavily on mainstream comedy. A church service turned into a standing routine seems especially forced.

And yet, one cannot help but leave with a smile. Food, family, a great karaoke scene. and a spotlight on an underrepresented immigrant community in Hollywood. There are worse ways to spend 96 minutes.

Do not miss it!

‘Easter Sunday’ is now available in cinemas in the United Arab Emirates.

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