Dinengdeng & Pinakbet

Koy’s ‘Easter Sunday’: A Review

Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran

When Jo Koy performed recently at the Castle Theater, I was surprised to learn from my sister the Pinoy comedian skipped his familiar repertoire of Filipino jokes. Instead, he riffed wryly on his recent Maui experiences. I posted half-kidding on social media she had been ripped off (she quipped I was the one “ripped off” because I’d bought her the tickets as an early birthday present).

Marietta Paet Anoba and her sister Celia Skeith (visiting from San Diego) pose in front of the poster at Maui Mall.
Photo courtesy Marietta Anoba

Koy apparently saved the ethnic material for his new movie, “Easter Sunday.” On the heels of the box office success of “Crazy Rich Asians” with its all-Asian cast, “Easter Sunday” is the first American film backed by major Hollywood studios (produced by DreamWorks Pictures, Amblin Partners and Rideback, and distributed by Universal Pictures) with Filipino acting leads playing—wait for it—Filipinos. Hawai‘i’s Tia Carrere says this is her first Filipina role and Lou Diamond Phillips plays himself as the most successful Filipino-American actor who in a running joke with a lot of truth made his mark playing Hispanics or Native Americans.

The plot isn’t very novel but it provides a fond homage to Filipino family life in America, with glimpses of the hopes and pressures parents place on their children for success while including the common tropes of a health care worker in every Filipino family and the central role of Roman Catholic faith and superstitions. Koy plays Joe Valencia, a comedian and single father to his teenage son, Junior (Brandon Wardell). For Easter Sunday, Joe and Junior travel from Los Angeles to Daly City to attend a family gathering with their extended Filipino American family. Joe encounters yet another feud between his mother (Lydia Gaston) and his Tita Theresa (Carrere) where no one can pinpoint the reason and deals with another hair-brained scheme gone wrong by his cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero), while waiting to hear from his agent Jay (played by director Jay Chandrasekhar) if he will get his big break in a television sitcom.
What the film captures well are the family dynamics of an extended clan observing and maintaining old country traditions while trying to also fit in and thrive in an American community. The film is more a working family farce than a dramedy and a lot grittier than the Hong Kong wealth depicted in CRA. But it’s a pretty satisfying ninety minutes of laughter.

Assistant Editor Alfredo Evangelista was on assignment with his wife Bessy in Honolulu to preview the movie.
Photo: Alfredo Evangelista

The pic also features some amusing performances by Hadestown Broadway actress and singer Eva Noblezada as UC Berkeley-bound Tala, a love interest for Junior, Jimmy O. Yang with another often hilariously manic turn as Marvin, Joe’s childhood pal and a Daly City black marketer, Tiffany Haddish as Vanessa, an old girl friend that Joe ghosted who is now a Daly City cop, and Asif Ali with an over-the-top depiction of the local small town crime boss, Dev Deluxe. The plot gets pulled along by an on-going Filipino gag involving a Filipino presidential candidate’s artifact and his career that is too much of a spoiler to include here.

Go see it. The sequel should bring the cast back for the Super Bowl of Filipino family holidays, Christmas.

Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran practices law in Wailuku. His family regularly attended the Filipino films screened at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center before the pandemic and are addicted to shows on TFC.