Jo Koy is ready for his close up, and it’s about time the same can be said for Filipino-Americans.
Koy’s “Easter Sunday” doesn’t reinvent culture-clash yuks. It’s formulaic and mostly safe, with a winning star turn and some crisp supporting work. It’s also immediately fresh by focusing on a culture mainstream movies avoid.
If only “Easter Sunday” didn’t make so many pit stops along the way.
Koy plays Joe Valencia, a stand-up comic known for a cheesy beer commercial. It’s one of several running bits the screenplay puts to good use.
Our Joe is close to landing his dream gig on a sitcom, but the show runners want him to lean into his ethnicity to seal the deal. It’s a trope that speaks to Hollywood’s limited imagination, but there’s no lectures based on that narrow thinking.
Meanwhile, Easter dinner is approaching, and Joe’s large and rowdy family expects him to make an appearance. He’ll have to navigate the demands his overbearing Mom (Lydia Gaston, solid), his ne’er do well cousin (Eugene Cordero) and his own son (Brandon Wardell) whose teen angst keeps colliding with Joe’s dreams.
So far, so familiar.
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The film’s first few minutes packs enough groans to make you wonder why they assembled for “Easter Sunday” in the first place. The story even finds Joe doing a stand-up style monologue in church, an obvious attempt to bring the comic’s base to the table.
Except the jokes aren’t as funny as what Koy usually shares on stage. How is that even possible?
The comedian’s quiet charisma slowly takes charge, and the script sharpens enough for some laughs and insight.
The film packs a celebratory nature that still allows for sharp cultural elbows. Joe’s mother and aunt (Tia Carrere) bickering over food and family loyalty is hardly positive, but it’s something other cultures can identity with, no doubt.
“Easter Sunday” ladles on the strong supporting turns, from director Jay Chandrasekhar as Joe’s agent to the film’s heavy, Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali). The dueling matriarchs also leave a mark, as does Cordero’s “hype truck” aspirations.
The film unwisely expands for a criminal subplot which doesn’t paint these lovable characters in the best of light. It also takes us away from the cultural insights and humor that mark the film’s obvious strengths.
Tiffany Haddish’s cameo as Joe’s old flame feels like an outtake, not a scene-stealing sequence.
The film’s language is tame by most standards, but a rare F-bomb and other salty bits seem unnecessary given the audience in its sights. It’s Filipino families eager to see their foibles on the screen at long last, and others ready to embrace them as their own.
HiT or Miss: “Easter Sunday” isn’t good enough to catapult star Jo Koy into movie stardom, but he acquits himself well enough to earn another crack at the bat.