During one of my many engagements, I made a decision to spend the holiday with my fiancé and his friends. Baby, Mommy guilt is real, as she was beyond annoyed that we couldn’t make time to do accomplish both. So, it suffices to say that Jo Koy’s Easter Sunday resonated on many visceral levels, making me chuckle as I realized that family is complicated regardless of what race you identify with. It’s the commonality that makes the hilarity of it all too familiar.
Jo Valencia (Jo Koy) is mostly recognizable for his the catchphrase “Let’s get this party started!” in a beer commercial that everyone seems to have know, is now on the precipice of booking a series regular on a network sitcom. However, it doesn’t come without a price. The producers want Jo to do an “accent,” his family doesn’t necessarily understand why he always has to “take a call,” and his agent is ‘supposedly’ always getting cut off due to canyons, parking garages or other issues. To make matters even more intense, his mother is insistent he return home for Easter dinner. However, that is not without its drama. His cousin is being hunted down by local loan sharks and his Mom (Lydia Gaston) and Aunt Teresa (Tia Carrere) are not speaking. It’s exhausting right?
In real life, Jo Koy, a popular and well booked stand-up comedian was experiencing similar issues to his cinematic alter ego until Academy Award winning director Steven Spielberg caught his act and encouraged Jo to bring his family’s antics to the big screen. There will be comparisons to other films like “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Soulfood” and even the most recent reboot of “Father of the Bride,” but it’s important to note these familial stories have mostly been produced and seen in theaters through a white gaze. Only in recent years, Hollywood has branched out in an attempt to entertain audiences from their different cultural vantage points on a regular basis.
With many cameos ranging from Boyz II Men frontman, Wanya Morris and Lou Diamond Phillips to comedy staples Rodney Perry and Tiffany Haddish, there are numerous moments that will crack you up, especially the matching dress showdown between Susan and Tita Teresa, the entire clan belting out The Black Eyed Peas hit “I’ve Got a Feeling,” after dinner and of course Balikbayan boxes containing gifts being sent to friends and family back home. I may not be Filipino, but some things are are universal and I could totally relate. Fililpino’s may have karoake, but Black folks have the electric slide or stepping Having said that, the dialogue from screenwriters Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo isn’t anything we haven’t previously seen on screen and inserting an adorable love connection between Junior (Brandon Wardell) and Ruth (Eva Noblezada) or an impromptu church sermon on love and togetherness does little to solidify the plot.
I’ll be the first one to say that representation matters seeing yourselves infiltrated on screen. However, I’lll give this film credit for its sincere and honorable cultural acknowledgements, its almost entirely Filipino and Asian-American casting and Koy as a charismatic, screen presence deserving of more starring roles. Having said that, although as a fellow thespian, I appreciated highlighting the complexity of being an ethnic actor in Hollywood consistently being challenged to not lean into stereotypical behavior, I wish that the film had been a little more original in its premise in other ways. Jo Koy is super talented and hopefully one day the right vehicle will come along to adequately showcase his charming persona.
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, produced by Amblin Pictures and distributed by Universal Pictures, Easter Sunday, hits on August 5th.