So popular and funny is Fil-American stand-up comic Jo Koy it was inevitable for him to be in the movies. Thus he stars in Easter Sunday, which is playing in your nearest mall cinema.
Usually, when a stand-up comic becomes a sensation, Hollywood comes calling, and they give him his own TV sitcom. If the show is a phenomenal hit, he is offered a major role in a movie. Robin Williams and Billy Crystal went that route before becoming major movie stars. Jo Koy, however, was given the star treatment by no less than Universal Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks. He went straight into headlining a multi-million-dollar comedy.
Easter Sunday presents a fictionalized story of Jo Koy’s family. Immediate relatives are often mentioned in his jokes, and the movie features a fictionalized version of them. First and foremost are Jo Koy’s mother (played by Lydia Gaston) and his teenage son Joe Junior (played by 30-year-old stand-up comedian Brandon Wardell).
As expected, Jo Koy basically plays himself even as he plays struggling comedian Joe Valencia. He’s this close to getting a part in a new sitcom but he isn’t keen on how the producers want him to play it. They insist he says his lines the way he mimics his mother onstage.
As the title implies, much of the plot revolves around the Easter family reunion. It’s being organized by his mom who, lives in Daly City. Joe is based in Los Angeles where the industry he wants to penetrate is based. He’s also trying to mend his relationship with his son Joe Junior, who’s been raised by his Caucasian ex-wife.
He drags Joe Junior to Daly City with him to make him reconnect with his Filipino kin. It’s not about to be a happy reunion, since his mom is feuding with her sister, Joe’s Tita Theresa (Tia Carrere). Adding to the turmoil is his cousin Eugene (played by Eugene Cordero). He’s gotten Joe and himself in trouble with a crime syndicate.
The Easter Sunday holiday is treated like the equivalent of the Americans’ Thanksgiving Day. I’m not so sure if that’s accurate
I half expected Easter Sunday to be a sort of movie adaptation of the ribald jokes from Jo Koy’s stand-up shows. Instead, screenwriters Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo have concocted a story that appears to have been recycled from a Kevin Hart comedy. As written, the Easter Sunday holiday is treated like the equivalent of the Americans’ Thanksgiving Day. I’m not so sure if that’s accurate, because as far as I know, the most important holiday for many Filipino families is Christmas. If not Christmas, then it’s the birthday of the richest relative in the clan.
Anyway, the writers fail to explain the holiday’s significance. They don’t even mention Holy Week or Lent and what it means to devout Catholics. Instead, viewers are in for an irreverent Easter Mass scene that promises to offend religious viewers. It might have worked if it was funny, but it falls flat. If Jo Koy’s mother was a true Filipino homemaker, then she wouldn’t have stood for this. She ought to be giving it to her son not just for not visiting her often enough, but also for divorcing his wife and making fun of her Sto. Nino image. Frankly, the Corleone family in The Godfather movies is more pious than the Valencia clan of Daly City.
Moreover, according to the writers, Manny Pacquiao is like a national hero to most of us Pinoys. This may be true, but I don’t know anyone who knows Pacquiao’s birth date. Everyone in the movie does. They should have held the family reunion on his birthday instead.
Lou Diamond Philips is hilarious playing Lou Diamond Philips, the movie star who yearns to play Manny Pacquiao in a biographical film
What makes Easter Sunday worth watching is the cast. Every player in the movie is game, and they somehow make the weak material they had to work with come alive. The surprise here is Tia Carrere, who plays Jo Koy’s matronly Tita Theresa. She sheds the glamour and bombshell image and plays the raffish tita to the hilt. Lou Diamond Philips is also hilarious playing Lou Diamond Philips, the movie star who yearns to play Manny Pacquiao in a biographical film. Some may think Brandon Wardell as Joe Junior is hindered by his monotone line delivery, but I have relatives who speak that way. (I also have relatives who’ll probably accuse me of speaking that way.)
It’s a credit to Jo Koy and his co-actors for carrying the movie sans the help of director Jay Chandrasekhar (he also plays Joe’s agent, and he plays it well). The filmmaker doesn’t put any sense of rhythm into the movie. The set-ups for the jokes are uninspired and the editing sloppy. It’s as if the primary objective was just to get every scene for the day in the can by 5 pm.
Jo Koy’s fans are also bound to be disappointed because the irreverence is limited to the church scene. Other than that, Easter Sunday is actually a family movie. It redeems itself near the end when Lou Diamond Philips gives Jo Koy a lecture on family values. Surprisingly, there are no four-letter words in the script and there’s no toilet humor and off-color jokes. Again, Jo Koy’s fans will be livid, because Easter Sunday is no different from the numerous Hollywood Thanksgiving Day movies of yore. Easter Sunday does have a strong finish, and it’ll make you wish the story had just centered on what happens during the closing credits.
Nevertheless, it’s an improvement over previous films about Fil-Americans. There’s a scene that perfectly captures the Filipino penchant for fun and making fun of a situation. It’s when Joe Junior arrives at the party with his soon-to-be-girlfriend Tala (Eva Noblezada). As the entire clan witnesses their arrival, everyone loudly swoons in a teasing manner. So far, Easter Sunday is the first movie I’ve seen that featured that habit, which is so Pinoy!