Review: Easter Sunday

Based on a story by Writer Ken Cheng, Standup Comedian Jo Koy plays standup Comedian Joe Valencia, going home to visit his Filipino family on Easter Sunday.

A love letter to Koy’s family from The Philippines, Easter Sunday takes a hilarious look at Koy’s Filipino family and culture.

The Plot — Easter Sunday

Hollywood Hopes

Joe Valencia lives the American dream — sort of. A working standup comedian who travels the country to put food on the table, Valencia also hit it big with a beer commercial and the catch phrase, “Let’s get the party started, Baby!”

While having some professional success, Joe’s far from rich, and still needs to work to support his Son, Ex-Wife, and her husband ‘Kyle’.

The big break he’s been waiting for might just be here, but he has a critical decision to make. And, he has to make that decision while fixing his relationship with his son during an Easter Sunday visit home.

Junior, played by Brandon Wardell, loves his Dad, but has many of the usual teen annoyances with his Father. Joe, Sr. struggles to be a good dad AND a good son, and finally knuckles under to pressure from his Mom, played by Lydia Gaston.

After a massive guilt trip, Joe packs up Junior, and they hit the road to Northern California.

No Cal

Most of Joe’s standup Comedy comes from his Filipino mother, Susan. But, he doesn’t come home as much as he used to.

As a result Joe, Junior barely knows his extended family, and barely knows even less about the Filipino culture from which he comes.

Upon arrival, Joe is greeted by both barrels of family drama. Joe’s Mom, Susan, played by Lydia Gaston, barely speaks to her sister, Theresa, played by ‘Wayne’s World’ star Tia Carrere.

Joe’s Cousin, Eugene, played by Eugene Cordero, seems on edge, and for good reason. Eugene’s **ahem** ‘business’ seems dodgy, at best.

Whenever the subject of Joe’s investment in Eugene’s business comes up; the reality seems to get worse and worse. And, before long, we meet Dev Delux, played by Asif Ali.

Joe’s Sister, Regina, played by Elena Juatco, can’t offer much help as she’s stuck at work all day. And, Joe’s Uncle Tito, played by Rodney To, seems more interested in getting along than getting the family drama to subside.

Junior seems losts in the family drama, and Joe’s attempts to bond with his son keep getting put on the back burner. As you might expect, that’s right when somone ELSE comes along.

The Good — Easter Sunday

Lydia Gaston

Easter Sunday may be designed as a star vehicle for Jo Koy, but Lydia Gaston steals the show.

Much of Joe’s standup is based off his Mom, so one would expect the writing for Susan’s character to be solid. However, what Lydia Gaston brings to the table jumps off the screen more than another character in a film full of standout characters.

Susan’s flair for the dramatic, while coming from a place of pure love, washes over the whole film. She provides gift boxes for less wealthy friends and family back in The Philippines, yet mocks her own sister’s contribution to the cause.

Gaston’s larger than life energy and presence show’s exactly why she made such a huge impact on Joe, but also why he pursued a career that doesn’t bring him back home very often.

Gaston’s both hilarious and compelling in the role, embodying both the center of Joe’s family and the Filipino culture all in one.

Joe’s Extended Family

Beyond Lydia Gaston’s performance, the casting of Joe’s extended family is rock solid. Tia Carrere, Eugene Cordero, Rodney To, and Elena Juatco each play uniquely crafted characters, but the energy and interactions between them really stand out in a natural and hilarious way.

Their collective relationships and energy have a natural ease and legitimacy that feels like real family. Their collective relationships also drive home the Filipino culture that Joe comes from, and that Junior has no clue about.

It’s really the sum total of the whole family’s energy that works so well together to give Joe’s and Junior’s character a reality to bounce off of and relate to.

The Bad — Easter Sunday

Director Jay Chandrasehkar

While I love Super Troopers, and Director Jay Chandrasehkar’s work as a whole, he brings a bit of a rocky structure and execution to Easter Sunday.

Chandrasekhar’s character work with the family is top notch. However, some of the plot elements, and a ticking clock to the story all seem a bit contrived.

The ticking clock element of the story fails to add the intended urgency to the story. Instead, all it does is add more chaos to a fast paced story that doesn’t stop to breathe and let he audience catch up.

The relationship between father and son also fails to develop as one might wish. The inciting reason for Joe taking Junior on a family trip home doesn’t hold much weight as the picture moves along.

Yes, Joe isn’t close to his son, and that’s the reason why the trip happens, but there isn’t much resentment or closeness either as the film develops. Some of this falls on Brandon Wardell failing to be more than a teen with a mop haircut, but Director Jay Chandrasekhar doesn’t develop ANY emotional stakes between father and son, positive or negative; that could have added to the emotion and depth of the story.

The celebration of family and culture could have hit home even more if Chandrasekhar had spent more time developing this central relationship which motivates the plot of the whole film.

The Review — Easter Sunday

Jo Koy’s first starring role in a feature film celebrates the Filipino-American family and culture from which he came.

While being intended as a star vehicle for Koy, he willingly shares the spotlight of the film with the rest of the talented cast, giving each time to shine.

Lydia Gaston, especially, jumps off the screen as Joe’s Mom, showing why she provides so much material for his standup comedy act.

Easter Sunday celebrates Filipino family and culture, and isn’t afraid to laugh at itself in the course of giving us an inside look at the Filipino American community.

While not a perfect film, the character and comedic elements come together for a fun look at family ties and obligations, as well as staying in touch with one’s culture while pursuing your own hopes and dreams.

The mechanics of the film are sloppy at times, but the character work is strong enough to overcome. And, we get such a specific and loving look at Joe’s family, one can easily overlook any sloppy filmmaking.

Worth watching in theaters, but not crucial. The collective energy from watching this movie with a crowd will add to your viewing experience, but it isn’t vital.

Three and a half stars out of five.

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