It’s rare these days for a studio comedy to get a theatrical release without a blockbuster IP to back it up. Which does Easter Sunday feel like an event in some ways – certainly as a landmark of Filipino representation in mainstream American culture, but especially right now as a title that Universal Pictures felt was better suited to the common theatrical experience than the convenience of a streaming service. All it takes for the experience to be complete is for the film to be funny.
Easter Sunday is not very funny.
To be fair, the premise is promising. Comedian Jo Koy plays Joe Valencia, a fictionalized version of himself trying to transition from stand-up to sitcom comedian. After an audition goes sour when the casting director asks him to play with an accent, Joe enlists his agent (director and Broken Lizard alum Jay Chandrasekhar) to try to salvage his chances of getting the part. However, their constant contact quickly becomes an obstacle between Joe and his teenage son Junior (Brandon Wardell), and ultimately a major complication as he joins in his extended family’s Easter Sunday celebration.
To be fair, Joe’s professional life is far from the top priority for the rest of his family, whose members are mostly trying to work around a long-running conflict between his mother (Lydia Gaston) and Theresa (Tia Carrere), his Tita. Neither Joe’s sister (Elena Juatco) nor his titos or titas (including Melody Butiu, Joey Guila and Rodney To) know how or why their fight started, but the tension is ripe for comedy, at least in theory. But aside from knowing winks at the seeming universality of Filipino family fights, there aren’t many actual jokes.
Instead, the film invests screen time in an increasingly absurd subplot involving Joe’s cousin, Eugene (Eugene Cordero), who has invested Joe’s seed money in what Eugene calls a “fashion truck”, rather than the taco truck they both agreed on. on. Faster than you can say “useless crime subplot,” Joe finds himself caught up in a scheme involving a disgruntled “luxury goods dealer” named Tony Daytona (Asif Ali), Manny Pacquiao’s stolen boxing gloves, and a quest to fence them for money. The bizarre situation exemplifies the film’s overreliance on comedy emerging from extreme storylines instead of raising the stakes for Joe and his family members with laugh lines or even sight gags.
That said, the few efforts made to spotlight its comedians repeatedly stop the film in its tracks. The calculated interruption of an Easter sermon leads to a literal stand-up set. A lackluster high-speed chase serves as prep for Tiffany Haddish, playing a cop, to play her flirtatious, quick-talking role. Not to damn it with faint praise, but an appearance during a visit to a potential buyer of the stolen gloves will almost certainly be the highlight of the film for many. The film’s commitment to being genuinely funny still feels right around the corner, instead relying too frequently and lazily on the layered, well-established, yet underexplored threads of family drama that give the film structure.
And again, the down-to-earth sweetness of sitcom-like domestic strife seems directly at odds with the exaggerated threat of violence that drives the film’s stakes. It’s as if a mellow dramedy and an action movie are forced by their overworked parents to share a runtime, with every intention of giving both a chance to succeed, but preventing them from being able to thrive. independently. Easter Sunday, for all its flaws, is still nominally watchable, but it’s a wasteland of hazy potential. It deserved to be a big theatrical event, but this particular party will be too easily forgotten.