Easter Sunday - Jo Koy - Universal Pictures
Credit: Universal/Everett Collection
Blockbuster Beat by Steven Warner Featured Film

Easter Sunday — Jay Chandrasekhar

August 5, 2022

Easter Sunday is bad enough to make spending time with extended family start to seem appealing.

A major studio releasing a film entitled Easter Sunday in the dog days of summer should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of said product, although it’s quite possible that such a choice was an act of self-preservation: indeed, had the movie come out around the time of the titular holiday, it’s likely that God Himself would have smote the heathens responsible for so thoroughly attempting to sully the good reputation of His one and only son. Easter Sunday is a shameless and utterly soulless stab at inclusivity that feels as genuine as a dayglo-pink Peeps marshmallow. While it would be nice to champion a movie that features a Filipino-led cast — which is exceedingly rare in today’s filmic landscape — the only point Easter Sunday proves is that such ventures can be just as shitty as their American counterparts. That director Jay Chandrasekhar and writers Kate Angelo and Ken Cheng are not Filipino isn’t especially shocking; that all three have worked on prime-time sitcoms is blatantly obvious here, although Easter Sunday would fail to pass muster even on a lazy CBS Saturday night schedule. A vehicle for stand-up comedian Jo Koy, who is probably best known for his talking-head segments on that World’s Dumbest… TV show that ran nonstop on TruTV in the early 2000s, it’s quite perplexing that his name only appears as a producer in the official credits, making one wonder exactly what he contributed — if anything — to the final product. This is a movie that opens with candid footage from his stage shows, is supposedly inspired by his actual family, and has the audacity to stop dead in its tracks and at one point so that the comedian can perform a five-minute routine at a freakin’ church, but there’s not even a “story by” credit. Having seen the finished product, it honestly would not be the least bit surprising to learn he had his name removed, as this basically the Ford Pinto of star vehicles.

Koy stars as Joe Valencia, a semi-successful stand-up comedian and actor who, as the film opens, is desperate to land a role on a big network sitcom. His personal life has seen better days, as his ex-wife is happily remarried to a successful NHL player, while he treats his 17-year-old son, Junior (Brandon Wardell), like an unwelcome burden, always placing him second to his career. A series of calls from his guilt trip-prone mother (Lydia Gaston) inspires Joe to take his son on a road trip to southern California for the eponymous celebration, where generations of Valencias gather to eat, gossip, and, in the case of Mom and her sister Theresa (Tia Carrere), fight nonstop about trivial bullshit. In other words, entirely relatable situations that transcend any potential language barriers. Yet Easter Sunday only pretends to be interested in its tale of familial love and woe. Instead, the movie devotes the majority of its runtime to a beyond stupid subplot in which Joe’s cousin, Eugene (Eugene Cordero), is hiding out from a local gangster named Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali) who he owes a cool $40k. Oh, and Eugene also stole a pair of boxing gloves from Dev that once belonged to Manny Pacquiao. The addition of such a thread seems almost like a callback to every studio comedy from the ‘80s that, for some reason or another, insisted on including a jewel heist subplot. The familial strife of Joe’s life alone is more than enough to sustain a feature-length film, but Easter Sunday seems almost afraid of committing to anything that might be the least bit authentic, which does a great disservice to its pleasantly eclectic cast, all of whom are ultimately rendered as obnoxious and borderline offensive stereotypes and caricatures. Joe is appalled when the creators of the sitcom for which he auditioned insist that he do an over-exaggerated Filipino accent, but this is Koy’s entire stand-up schtick, imitating family members in the most obvious and pandering way possible. It’s all scans as very disingenuous.

What would help the film immensely is if it was at least a little bit funny, but there’s not a single laugh to be found, nor anything to even inspire a mild smile. A joke about a Subaru from the ubiquitous Tiffany Haddish got a half-grimace out of this critic, but even that was more out of pity than anything else. (But really, is there any slapdash effort Haddish won’t appear in for her friends?) Almost as troubling is the casting of Wardell as Junior, a rising comedian who admittedly looks young for his 29-year-old age, but who couldn’t pass for 17 even if Ray Charles was the only viewer. His performance is one of such pained pouts and discomfort that it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to learn that Chandrasekhar had a gun pointed at him just off camera, but that would imply the director was actually doing something on-set. Chandrasekhar — of Broken Lizard/Super Troopers fame — is one of those rare directors who has helmed a series of highly successful films, but who seems to be getting increasingly lazy filmmaking-wise with each subsequent feature. Easter Sunday is just scene-after-scene of awkward blocking, shitty green screen, godawful ADR, and insert shots that at times make no visual sense; that Carrere is now playing grandmother roles makes even less. Yet perhaps the film does have one thing going for it: the prospect of spending time with your family won’t seem nearly as painful relative to watching this manure. Hallelujah, amen.