He’s the talk of Netflix. Streaming audiences watch Filipino comedian Jo Koy bring the house down as he headlines shows in L.A., Hawaii and the Philippines. This edgy, urban comic loves his Asian culture and now he’s sharing that joy in movie theaters.
In Easter Sunday, screenwriters Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo keep Koy in familiar territory. He plays Joe Valencia, a successful comic being egged on by his trifling Hollywood agent (Jay Chandrasekhar, Super Troopers) to do a demeaning Filipino accent so he can land a career-changing role in a TV pilot. Valencia pushes back and has other battles to fight. He and his sullen teenage son (Brandon Wardell) attend his family’s Easter Sunday dinner in Daly City, in Northern California, and that’s when the real conflict begins.
Jo’s pushy mom Susan (Lydia Gaston) makes a big spread—food galore. She also fights with her very competitive sister Teresa (Tia Carrere, True Lies), which cause family friction. Also, Jo loaned his deadbeat cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero, Kong: Skull Island) money to invest in a food truck, then Eugene went into business with a menacing gangster who he now owes thousands of dollars. Hey, if it’s family, it’s drama!
The similarities between Koy and Valencia are so glaring it’s hard to discern when he’s acting. He even does standup at a church service. It almost feels like this project was designed to introduce Koy to movie audiences, up his popularity and earn him a shot at a television series. If he heads in TV land’s direction, he can use the “George Lopez” and “Black-ish” shows as road maps. Those successful, culture-centric comedy series, which featured comics who invited TV fans into their homes, are iconic.
Actor and director Jay Chandrasekhar has two jobs. It’s a double duty he performed in films like Super Troopers and Club Dread. He directs this movie like he’s filming an SNL skit. The camerawork is immobile, not fluid (Joe Collins). He goes from setup to setup in a way that is far more suited for TV than film. And, the production design (Michael Joy), set decoration (Penny A. Chalmers, Andrea Mae Fenton), costumes (Lea Butler, Patricia J. Henderson) and editing (Steven Sprung) all scream “sitcom.”
The entire production seems unextraordinary, until Joe Valencia goes home and introduces viewers to his extended family and lively Filipino life. Mom, aunt, cousins and the long list of supporting characters grow on you. The food envy between the sisters, the cousins who worship the comedian’s fame, the teen girl (Eva Noblezada) who befriends his son and the ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Tiffany Haddish) who is now a very profane policewoman … all these subplots become increasingly amusing and charming.
It’s like you’re the guest who came to a dinner and family members misbehaved on purpose. By the time the clan sheds their rancor, pulls it together and belts out the karaoke classic “I Got a Feeling,” by Black Eyed Peas, you’re completely immersed. Warm emotions come over you and last until the film ends. Think Soul Food, This Christmas and the crazy A Madea Christmas.
Jo Koy’s vibrant spirit leaves a lasting impression. As the comic ambassador for Filipino culture, he’s ready for new showcases and this serviceable film is living proof.