“Easter Sunday” (2022) – How do you celebrate Easter Sunday? Perhaps you don’t celebrate it at all.
For Joe Valencia (Jo Koy), this year, he drives from Los Angeles to Daly City, Calif. to spend the holiday with his family. This 50-something standup comedian doesn’t trek up to Northern Cal very often because he’s regularly bustling through a hectic schedule of performing live and starring in commercials. At the moment, Joe is trying out for a sitcom and hopes this could be his big break. In addition, to running the La La Land rat race, he’s a divorcee and a father to his teenage son, Joe Jr. (Brandon Wardell).
Junior (Wardell) joins his dad on this road trip/visit in Koy’s film, a reflection of his own family and Filipino heritage. The cast is primarily Filipino, and Koy expressed excitement – through several interviews – over this fact.
In an Aug. 4th Collider interview with Steve Weintraub, Jo talks about the script.
“We wanted (the movie) to be loosely based, but also an embellishment of my life and then still represent the culture,” Koy said.
In real-life, Koy is divorced and has a son. He’s a standup comic by trade, but Koy was born (and grew up) in Tacoma, Wash, unlike his on-screen character.
“Super Troopers” veteran and Broken Lizard co-founder Jay Chandrasekhar directs this family comedy. “Easter Sunday” starts as an amiable, enjoyable journey but, unfortunately, breaks down about 40 minutes in, as Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng’s screenplay inexplicably drifts into a mundane plot thread involving money problems and local gangsters.
It’s a painful turn because the movie begins with a light, positive atmosphere.
These good feelings don’t necessarily flee the big screen throughout the 92-minute runtime, but a tired, routine storyline overshadows them. You see, Joe lends/invests in his Daly City cousin’s (Eugene Cordero) food truck, but Eugene (Cordero) squanders the opportunity and becomes the target of a local mobster’s (Asif Ali) ire.
Really? Yes, really.
Let’s back up, however, and reflect upon more encouraging on-screen times.
First of all, Joe is a wholly likable lead. He’s extremely busy juggling bowling balls and spinning plates on spindly sticks but has virtuous intentions of pleasing everyone…except his ex-wife’s husband (Michael Weaver). Joe mentions that Kyle (Weaver) usually “makes it weird,” and we see the awkward escapades play out humorously.
They say that women can’t have it all, and Joe struggles through the male version of this uphill climb.
However, Junior and he arrive in Daly City, and Chandrasekhar captures some gorgeous shots of this San Francisco suburb, and the oceanfront municipality looks inviting. So much so that this critic would like to vacation there, stat! Now, the “Easter Sunday” cast and crew filmed in Vancouver, B.C., so the said accolades should be saved for that Canadian spot instead, but perhaps, they filmed B-roll in Daly City. Not sure.
Anyways, the hospitable setting connects to Joe’s family. Very quickly after Joe and Junior’s arrival, we meet several of their kin, including his sister Regina (Elena Juatco), cousin Eugene (Cordero), mom (Lydia Gaston), aunt or Tita Theresa (Tia Carrere), and several others. His relatives have various and engaging eccentricities, and even though Regina teases him and his mom constantly mothers him, Susan’s (Gaston) home has a ton of love.
The movie usually shines brightest when the entire family is together, whether they are enjoying Susan’s house, picnicking in a park, or attending an Easter service hosted by Father Hildo (Rodney Perry). Perry is a comedian by trade, and Koy and Chandrasekhar feature other standup comics in the movie, including Ali and Tiffany Haddish.
Haddish, no question, delivers the laugh-out-loud funniest moments in “Easter Sunday”, and Koy gets opportunities to stretch his monologue skills during a couple of arranged occasions.
Even though Haddish’s said rant on the Daly City streets originated from Eugene and Joe’s ongoing escapades to raise cash to pay off the mob dude, Dev Deluxe (Ali), this clunky plot thread monopolizes way too much screen time. Not only do we plod through the dull mechanics of Joe’s dismay and travels through his hometown, but this side quest constantly pulls our hero away from the rest of his family, where the most fruitful interest resides.
Look, we need more moments of Susan and Tita Teresa’s ongoing feud, Regina’s relationship with her brother, Tito Arthur’s (Rodney To) mailman adventures, and more.
On the other hand, Eva Noblezada’s turn as a whip-smart and pleasant high school senior is a winning love interest for Junior, and his relationship with his dad keeps our attention too. Chandrasekhar also gets in on the act and is another bright spot with frequent hits as Joe’s opportunistic and equally shallow agent. He lights up the screen with every appearance.
“Easter Sunday” has key positives, including a supportive, diverse cast, warm and funny moments from professional comics, and several lovely shots of Filipino cuisine. At the same time, the plot inexplicably dives into the aforementioned conventional, monotonous space. The third-act face off with Dev is just another reminder that the story took the laziest turn imaginable. Hey, Dev carries a gun and all, but there’s not even one second of angst (from this critic) that anyone is in danger.
“Easter Sunday” offers something new and a surprising cameo to boot, but a distracting plot thread meanders through this holiday.
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar
Written by: Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng
Starring: Jo Koy, Lydia Gaston, Brandon Wardell, Eva Noblezada, Tia Carrere, Rodney To, Elena Juatco, Eugene Cordero, and Tiffany Haddish
Runtime: 92 minutes
Image credits: Universal Pictures