'Easter Sunday' Is a Fun Day for Family Dysfunction

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

Starring Jo Koy, Tia Carrere, Lydia Gaston, Brandon Wardell, Tiffany Haddish, Jimmy O. Yang, Lou Diamond Phillips

BY Prabhjot BainsPublished Aug 4, 2022

Easter Sunday is a collective win for American comedy. Sure, its overall structure is formulaic, featuring a fraught family dynamic in which jokes primarily come from people standing still and talking to each other. Yes, it doesn't utilize the medium to its full extent, opting not to generate humour visually and sonically. And it's an Easter movie illogically coming out in August. But what it does have is authenticity.

The film brazenly wears its heart on its sleeve, giving us an earnest and genuine portrait of family dysfunction that never tries too hard for laughs. It's confident in its own skin, as the Filipino household at the centre of it, while wholly eccentric, is the quintessential American family.

Jo Koy stars as Joe Valencia (a stand-in for himself), a down-on-his-luck Los Angeles comedian whose biggest gig to this point is a beer commercial. On the cusp of landing a key role on a sitcom, he's told the part is his, but only if he uses a "50 percent Filipino accent". While waiting to hear back, he's guilt tripped by his mother into heading back to Daly City, CA, for Easter weekend. Joe has been dreading this moment, weary of his overbearing but sweet mother (Lydia Gaston), whose expectations he somehow can never meet. Joe brings his son (Brandon Wardell) with him, who feels his father never gives him enough attention. What ensues is a tumultuous weekend, full of sibling rivalries, terminally flawed cousins, and gigantic feasts.

This plot has all the makings of a typical comedy that could have relied heavily on trite absurdities. But every plot beat, character and joke feel grounded in reality. The humour here is never forced; instead, there is a method to the madness, which ensures that every gag is heartfelt, endearing and immersed in the family dynamic. Its oddball trajectory feels seamless, natural and earned, never relinquishing its commitment to an honest portrayal of Filipino culture — which hilariously features an innate love for creepy baby Jesus statues and Manny Pacquiao.

While being heavily immersed in Filipino culture and references, Easter Sunday touches on many ubiquitous truths, portraying an intrinsic humanity through its characters, all of whom have aspirations, dreams, relationship problems, and a longing for love and acceptance. Filipino or not, you feel welcomed into its big family. Easter Sunday is strong showcase of more diverse representation in Hollywood. The fleshed-out, candid representation of Asian-Americans feels universal.

Jo Koy proves himself to be an assured comedic leading man. It becomes very easy to see oneself in him, as his insecurities and mistakes could very much be anyone's. He possesses an inherent likability and reliability that is infectious, and very easy to become invested in. But the standout here is Lydia Gaston, whose sweet volatility is a delight to behold. She elevates every comedic beat, and is often a catalyst that propels the film's memorability. Her performance retains both stoicism and compassion, perfectly embodying the difficulty of single motherhood (especially in chaotic family). Most of the cast members also hold their own, and never fail to bring the laughs, with Brandon Wardell being the only weak link, as his performance, at times, can feel a little lifeless.

The film's cameos are also surprisingly great and are seamlessly woven into the plot. They're never disposable, as the likes of Tiffany Haddish, Jimmy O. Yang and Lou Diamond Phillips are introduced and reintegrated into the narrative naturally, never impeding the film's forward momentum.

Easter Sunday is a bit rough around the edges, with unimaginative camera work, clichéd musical stings (which evoke mall playlists) and an ending that wraps up a bit too neatly. But its heart is never compromised, and this ability to be consistently sincere is the key to its winning formula.

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