Jo Koy gives the world a taste of the Filipino-American family in Easter Sunday
Jo Koy stars in a semi-biographical film about the personal and family struggles of a Filipino-American pursuing a career far outside his cultural norms in Easter Sunday. Jo Koy plays Jo Valencia, a stand-up comedian looking to transition into television acting, after riding the success of a famous beer commercial with an iconic catchphrase, “Let’s get the party started bay-bay!” Unfortunately, in his efforts to make it and provide for his kid and make his family proud, he is often absent from their lives. But, despite being absent, the love is still there, and he can no longer be absent from his family, or all of their drama, on Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday as a Filipino-American Also Going Against What Was Expected
I don’t know if this is how “people who lack melanin” feel every time they see their story on screen, but it was incredibly jarring watching Jo Valencia be told something that just didn’t make sense. In the film, it was to speak with a Filipino accent for a guy from Colorado, my personal experience was I’m too big to be Asian. Not exactly the same, but eerily similar. It’s comforting and uplifting to know I’m not the only one who has experienced “don’t use a washcloth” stupidity and limited perspective. This particular experience, specifically, this scene, was not a positive one for me personally, but I’ll go more into it some other time.
After the shock of the first direct connection I had with Easter Sunday, the rest were much more positive and inspiring. Koy delivers a monologue/stand-up bit where he directly addresses how much holidays suck. How the family drama makes even the thought of visiting family an anxiety-riddled affair. Something most can relate to, but having the exact examples unique to our culture just added a little more connection and specialness. The thing that makes that particular part really work though, outside of the incredible specificness yet broad pain points, is that Koy was able to turn the pain into laughter.
Koy delivers in this scene truly dramatic tension, that not only gets viewers to laugh at it but laugh through it. He also likens Jesus’ sacrificing of his life for our sins to God guilt tripping his son to come home. It’s hilarious and brilliant. It is also emblematic of the theme of the film too. That despite the drama, and how ridiculous it gets, it’s really about family and the love a family shares. Things can only get so crazy because of how deeply family cares for each other, and it was thoroughly invigorating to see that on the big screen.
Because when most of us yappie Fil-Ams tell “people whose ancestors risked sailing off the edge of the planet for spice,” we are often met with looks of abject horror. Jo Koy has mastered the art of being able to share the story entertainingly and that skill is ingrained throughout the movie. Jo Koy is the perfect person to introduce some of the more complicated aspects of Filipino-American culture and does it perfectly.
Josep and His Family
While Jo Koy effortlessly shepherds Easter Sunday, his performance is indistinguishable from his stand-up performance. Which is absolutely incredible to watch in person and in any of his comedy specials; even in some of his smaller recorded performances. He is a truly amazing performer who I have gone to see two nights in a row and had two incredible and unique experiences. His iconic performance as a stand-up is somewhat an asterisk on his performance here though. Recognizing his performance style removes your suspension of disbelief that you’re watching Jo Valencia deal with his life. You know you’re watching Jo Koy act out a story of his life.
Again, it is a great performance. It is just not distinguishable from his stage performances. I liken it to a Broadway star who hasn’t yet mastered adapting his performance ability to film and television. You see the powerful performance, but it’s not quite delivered correctly. It’s like you get home after ordering from Jollibee and you see that your Chicken Joy Bucket is sealed shut instead of giving a bit of openness to vent. You know you have something incredible, but it’s not delivered in the best way, so you know that Chicken Joy isn’t going to be as crunchy as it should be.
Luckily, there’s gravy, and to back out of this metaphor gracefully, his family is the gravy. And just like the gravy, it is impossible to get enough. The warring matriarchs, the probably a better entertainer sister who adhered to their mother’s “desire” to pursue a nursing career, the family’s favorite cousin. All of these Filipino-Family archetypes are brought to life in absolute perfection. Lydia Gaston is my mom, all the way down to the haircut. With the same disapproving looks and passive-aggressive quips and cadence… she actually triggered some emotional baggage, which is a testament to her performance.
And her equally petty and stubborn sister, portrayed by Tia Carrere, radiates the same self-esteem-ruining guilt-inducing vibes yet is somehow uniquely dramatic in her own right. The way Carrere and Gaston simultaneously love and break down their family is truly harrowing. I thoroughly loved how much I hated it. It is the reason I see my family so rarely. they deliver pure and genuine performances. If the committee deciding awards are Filipino or are deeply aware of the Filipino-family dynamic. Gaston and Carrere are coming home with numerous statues.
The rest of the family in Easter Sunday are also great, though sadly don’t have the most robust parts. Elena Juatco as Regina, Jo’s sister, is instantly recognizable as many of my friends: a Pinay nurse who never passes up an excuse to drop bars on a karaoke machine and say something bitingly mean in a friendly voice before they rush out to work. I’m not trying to generalize, but those are all traits they possess. Joey Guila, Melody Butiu, and Rodney To as the Titos and Tita you’re not quite sure how you’re related to but will always tell you all the drama, and hands down great at gassing you up even if they don’t get what you do.
Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy O. Yang, Tiffany Hadish, and Jay Chandrasekhar all play hilarious parts. While they may not have the biggest roles, each one fully maximizes their screen time and deliver memorable performances. Lou Diamon Phillips in particular as he begins playing himself but later plays as another character reminding the world why he’s a legend. Asif Ali as the over-the-top antagonist is just comedy. His enjoyment of being such a unique bad guy radiates every frame you see him. And Brandon Wardell pushing 30, plays a very convincing slacker high school kid.
I could go on a lot more about those characters, but it’s 1:30 am and I got to drive to Nor Cal (in some weird twist of fate that is forcing me to essentially live out the events of Easter Sunday) so I’ll save it for our We’re Always Watching Easter Sunday Episode. But I wanted to specifically praise Eugene Cordero and Eva Noblezada’s performance. Eugene Cordero is a scene stealer. His kind of dimwitted innocence but pure love and positivity as Jo’s cousin Eugene is wonderful. He gets you mad at him and instantly gets you to love him. Also, Eugene is looking jacked and looks ready for more action roles.
Eva Noblezada is a rising star. Noblezada plays Ruth, a teacher and love interest for Brandon Wardell’s Junior. She plays the it girl/prom queen in comparison to Junior’s lackluster being and does it with grace and humbleness. She also gets real when she needs to and can hold her own in a cast full of comedians. It was great to see her get to display her comedy chops. She also gets to showcase her vocals, but nowhere near the same capacity as she did in Yellow Rose.
Ano Problema Mo?
Overall, Easter Sunday is a fiercely funny family dramedy. But much like family, it’s not perfect. The plot isn’t as strong as you might expect for a theatrical release. The cast and direction punch above their weight class and help compensate. But it’s still noticeably not a deep plot. There are some weird visuals, I think it was a weird green screen background, that was likely shot during the throws of the pandemic. It’s likely not their fault and they did the best with what they could. But I’m trying to be justly critical as I am biased, and it is noticeable and took me out of the moment. It also followed the audition scene.
It was a sensitive few minutes.
They also could’ve shown more of the food and showcased it in a more appealing matter. I’m harping on this aspect of Easter Sunday because I am hungry, but also I feel food is a huge staple and a universally appealing factor of any culture. Also, Jo Koy’s book is called Mixed Plate and the food metaphors helped drive his points. I feel it would have done so again here had it been better captured. They kind of allude to the importance of food throughout the drama, but it never gets properly captured or utilized. We don’t even get a lumpia crunch… There was a good metaphor with halo-halo, but it was showcased blandly.
And I don’t know what else… Not enough Joey Guila and Tiffany Haddish. I am pretty upset I could not see the pinipig in one of the halo-halo orders. I feel that’s something the world should know about.; But I don’t think these really work as critiques.
Easter Sunday? Wow, Talaga!
Easter Sunday is the freshest and funniest family dramedy in years. Even outside of the incredible representation of a large underrepresented population, Easter Sunday just does a great job of being real about family drama. Holidays are a time of celebration, but also a time that many are anxious about because family drama is unavoidable. Family is messy, but they’re also family. They love each other and can annoy and anger each other as no other person can. Easter Sunday fully captures the complexity of family and presents it in a powerfully poignant, and hilarious, way that comedians are renowned for.
For making me laugh, triggering me to steel up and not cry, and wonderfully showcasing our culture to the world, I give Easter Sunday a 4/5.
Easter Sunday releases on Friday, August 5, 2022. Tickets are on sale now.
ABOUT EASTER SUNDAY
Release Date: August 5, 2022
Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Screenplay by: Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo, based on a story by Ken Cheng
Producers: Dan Lin, Jonathan Eirich
Executive Producers: Nick Reynolds, Joe Meloche, Jo Koy, Jessica Gao, Jimmy O. Yang, Ken Cheng, Seth William Meier
Cast: Jo Koy, Jimmy O. Yang, Tia Carrere, Brandon Wardell, Eva Noblezada, Lydia Gaston, Asif Ali, Rodney To, Eugene Cordero, Jay Chandrasekhar, Tiffany Haddish, Lou Diamond Phillips
Jo Koy stars as a man returning home for an Easter celebration with his riotous, bickering, eating, drinking, laughing, loving family, in this love letter to his Filipino-American community.
Do you already have your tickets for Easter Sunday? Will you be sneaking into lumpia into the theater? Have you seen Jo Koy live? Let us know your movie plans and share your reactions to the film with us on Twitter. And if you need any clarification on some of the Filipino aspects feel free to tweet at me directly.