The FilAm experience in ‘Easter Sunday,’ the struggle between Filipino roots and American identity

Joe Valencia’s (Jo Koy) FilAm family: Attending church together and obsessing over Manny Pacquiao

By Wendell Gaa 

If mainstream Hollywood hasn’t had a proper introduction yet to a typical life of a Filipino-American family, it does now thanks to “Easter Sunday” starring the phenomenal FilAm comedian Joseph Herbert, Sr., better known to us all simply as Jo Koy. 

This new film comedy unveils the tale of Joe Valencia played by Jo Koy who is an established Los Angeles-based actor and comedian struggling to find balance between career and family, especially in his role as a single dad sharing joint custody of his son Junior with his American ex-wife. 

Joe has made quite a name for himself as a “beer commercial guy,” but despite his fame, or maybe because of it, he just can’t seem to find the proper amount of time to bond with his son.  Just when Joe seems to have a lock on nabbing a role for a sitcom audition, the producer learns he is half-Filipino, and prompts Joe to try as hard as he can to speak with a “half-Filipino” accent when portraying his sitcom character, whereby Joe deduces that this is just another “ethnic stereotypical” role.  Simultaneously, the auditioning process also causes Joe to miss out on a school meeting with Junior and his teachers, much to the chagrin of his ex-wife Catherine (played by Canadian actress Carly Pope). 

Joe decides to compensate for lost time with Junior by taking him on a road trip north to the San Francisco Bay area in Daly City, which is unofficially known as “Little Manila” (and where this author spent the first five years of his life growing up) to spend a festive Easter Sunday weekend celebration with his large family.

What ensues during their family reunion are moments which every Filipino can easily identify with — from relatives all spending church services together, to having outdoor picnics, to obsessing over Manny Pacquiao’s glorious boxing days, to karaoke competitions and to having some delicious halo-halo desserts.  Joe and Junior reconnect with family matriarch Susan, who affectionately calls Joe “Josep”; Joe’s hard-working nurse sister Regine; cousin Eugene; aunt Yvonne, uncles Arthur and Manny; and aunt Theresa who is engaged in an intense sibling rivalry with Susan. 

Jo Koy with Lydia Gaston playing his mother Susan in the movie.

I personally enjoyed every minute of “Easter Sunday,” and the core of the film’s humor really derives from the hilarious interactions which Joe has with his relatives, particularly with mother Susan and aunt Theresa, as he tries to come to terms with both his loving affection and loyalty towards his family and his desire to be an independent-minded and successful comedian, a career path which his mother quite frankly frowns upon.  

Joe’s efforts to bond with his son, while attempting to further immerse him into Filipino family tradition and culture, is also amusing and adoring at the same time, and seeing them both subtly struggle between their Filipino roots and American identity really hits home.  One neat sub-plot also involves Junior’s budding crush on bubbly FilAm girl Tala (played by Broadway musical talent and Tony nominee Eva Noblezada of “Miss Saigon” fame), who further assists Junior with the intricacies of Pinoy culture. 

The rest of the supporting cast are tailor-made for this film, particularly Tia Carrere as “Tita” Theresa, whose thick Filipino accent was a pleasant surprise given how I’ve mostly seen her speak with straight-out American accents in her other Hollywood film roles.  Lydia Gaston, who was born in New York, adeptly nails the role of mother Susan in such a way that is cutely comical yet not overly stereotypical and demeaning for a Filipino family matriarch.  Seattle-born FilAm Brandon Wardell, a real-life comedian himself who portrays Junior, has wonderful onscreen chemistry with Jo Koy and their growing relationship is fun to watch.  Another FilAm comedian Eugene Cordero, who previously had a small role in the hit Marvel/Disney+ series “Loki” last year, also wittily plays out cousin Eugene whose actions serve a pivotal role in the film’s plot.  Definitely not to be left out is Hollywood veteran Lou Diamond Phillips, who can easily slip into comedic roles as much as dramatic ones. 

For a film about Asian families and their social complexities, this movie may not stand out as indelibly as, say, 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians” (of course this could change with the passage of time), but at the very least, “Easter Sunday” is solid proof that Hollywood is finally paying attention to the Filipino-American experience.

© The FilAm 2022

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