In a time when studios are less inclined to take risks and many indie films are struggling to find a foothold with audiences that have more viewing choices than ever, specificity is the new universal.
Take the comedy Easter Sunday. It has what may be one of the oldest premises in existence – the struggling big city guy who returns home for a holiday with his crazy family. Complications ensue.
How to keep viewer attention when traveling such familiar ground? Chances are it won’t happen by going big. The family comedy is a genre that thrives on intimacy, and going the epic route means having to compete with the omnipresent beast that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So on-screen families have tended to get more diverse, turn out to be the chosen/found kind, as was the case in Minions: The Rise of Gru, or more commonly, representing the underrepresented, such as in Encanto.
Easter Sunday chooses representation, following stand-up comic Jo Koy, whose fictionalized version of himself, Joe Valencia, seems even lighter on the fiction part than usual. One crucial difference is that, unlike Jo Koy, Valencia’s success is mainly limited to a commercial whose residuals are enough to provide a good amount of comfort and impart some upward mobility to his son Junior (Brandon Wardell), who is able to enjoy the benefits of a private school and ritzy neighborhood that also somewhat isolates him from his Filipino culture.
But Easter Sunday is as much about confirming Jo Koy’s cool dad status as allowing Junior to find his way closer to his father’s side of the family and much of what he has missed out on, which naturally leads to a focus on the many things in Junior’s life Valencia has admittedly absented himself from in his drive to pursue acting.
And of Course…
Whether further complications are needed is an open question, but it is damn fun, especially when it includes Tiffany Haddish, who actually rocks a police uniform as the ex Valencia cheated on years ago. Her reappearance in Valencia’s life comes at the worst possible time, given that his choice to invest in his cousin Eugene’s (Eugene Cordero) truck led to a whole lot of idiotic decisions on Eugene’s part, including owing about $40,000 to local gangster Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali).
Such are the personalities in Valencia’s family, which include his feuding mother (Lydia Gaston) and aunt (Tia Carrere), his sister Regina (Elena Juatco), who is almost too hilarious and beautiful to pull off her role as a nurse who’s given up on her dreams, and other standouts like his uncle (Rodney To), who is armed with enough knives and hilarity to feasibly distract men holding him at gunpoint. Hell, even Junior’s love interest Ruth (Eva Noblezada) gets her moment to bail out the men who unintentionally pull her into their insanity.
All of them are enough to practically steal the show from the crime subplot, which includes a literal piece of Filipino-American history. Much of the film’s marketing seems to agree, with the focus remaining on an ensemble who are clearly overjoyed to be making a love letter to the Filipino-American community, and Daly City in general, which Easter Sunday doesn’t even attempt to elevate to cool status.
But with a cast like this, which also gets Lou Diamond Phillips (playing a fictionalized version of his Scottish-Filipino self) as the guy who confirms Valencia’s commitment to remaining true to himself rather than allowing Hollywood to stick him in yet another box.
If director Jay Chandrasekhar grew up in Chicago’s Indian rather than the Filipino community, he can no doubt relate to a number of the points made. The Super Troopers sequel aside, Easter Sunday is a return to movies after a long absence, with Chandrasekhar shifting his focus to helming various episodes of a wide range of TV comedies. But he’s always had a flair for the genre and silliness in general, and that the many plots and subplots to those plots in Easter Sunday flow so organically is a tribute to skills that have been sharpened to a razor point.
Yes, Easter Sunday crams a whole lot into its 96 minutes, but it coalesces well enough to enjoy watching Valencia try to stay sane in the midst of family drama, which has more than enough fuel to burn hot even into the end credits. And in the end, what is more relatable than such loving family dysfunction?
Rating: 9/10 SPECS
Easter Sunday rises in theaters on Friday, August 5th. Follow us here for the latest on all the movies currently in theaters.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Amblin/Dreamworks.
Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.
She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.