Easter Sunday, by Albert W. Vogt III

I wish I had seen Easter Sunday with my friend.  Weeks ago, when I first heard that this was coming out (as he apparently had, too), we discussed meeting up to see it together.  Geography and schedules prevented this from happening. Circumstances last weekend kept me from getting to the theater when it premiered, so I am behind.  I do not mind this so much since the offerings this weekend do not seem all that interesting.  And what could be more interesting to a practicing Catholic than a title like Easter Sunday.  I do not know much about Filipino culture (outside of the food, which is amazing) and my friend.  I just hope that this film is not an accurate representation in its totality.

It would appear that the main character of Easter Sunday, Joe Valencia (Joe Koy), is basically playing himself.  I would not know exactly as I have never seen any of his stand-up comedy, but that is what his Wikipedia page and the movie says he does.  In the film, he is still trying to make it.  In real life, a “major” motion picture would say that he is already established, but a little struggle a movie makes.  There are a lot of struggles in Joe’s life.  The first is his relationship with his son, Joe Valencia, Jr. (Brandon Wardell).  With dad constantly working to advance his career, there has been a slew of milestones in Junior’s life that have been missed.  The latest let down is a parent-teacher conference that the son hopes dad can smooth over so that he can continue with the extra-curriculars in which he is more into than his regular classes.  Joe misses this because he has an audition at a studio for a comedy pilot called “Great Scott.”  On top of the disappointment from his son and ex-wife, his mother, Susan (Lydia Gaston) is pressuring him to come north to the Bay Area for the title holiday.  It is with his disinterested agent constantly calling and finding bogus reasons to hang-up that father and son make the five-hour drive from Los Angeles to dad’s hometown of Daly City.  Joe has the added angst of everyone in the family expecting him to smooth over a rift between mom and his aunt (tita, basically, in Filipino) Teresa (Tia Carrere).  Joe and Junior arrive just in time for Mass.  During the service, the demo-toting priest, Father Hildo (Rodney Perry), invites Joe to come forward and say some words (which is ridiculous), and Joe turns it into a stand-up bit where he airs a number of grievances.  Another grievance is Joe’s cousin, Eugene Cordero (as himself, apparently), to whom Joe has loaned a great deal of money.  The funds had been meant for a Filipino style taco truck.  Truck, yes; tacos, no.  Instead, Eugene has turned it into what he refers to as a “hype-truck.”  He has also stolen merchandise and money from a local petty criminal going by Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali).  This all comes out at Teresa’s Easter lunch in the park, to which Susan had to be practically dragged, when Dev shows up there looking for a disappeared Eugene.  Joe confronts Dev for his cousin and sees that Dev means business, flashing a pistol.  When Joe returns to his mother’s house, he finds Eugene hiding in the basement.  He does have an idea for coming up with the $40,000 Dev is demanding: sell the boxing gloves worn by Manny Pacquiao in his 2008 fight against Oscar de la Hoya, which Eugene also pilfered.  Joe has a contact at the mall, who then points the way to another person known simply as “The Jeweler.”  This turns out to another Filipino-American great, Lou Diamond Phillips (as himself), who is particularly interested given that he is supposed to play Pacquiao in an upcoming movie.  Phillips agrees to bring the money later that day, and Joe and Eugene return to Susan’s in-time for Easter dinner.  As you might expect given the title, it is here that everything explodes.  It starts when Junior sees a text from dad’s agent indicating a flight out of town in order to salvage the show with the studio back in Los Angeles.  This comes just as Joe is launching into a diatribe about the importance of family.  Susan and Teresa also take this opportunity to make clear the reasons for why they are not talking to one another.  Joe is scrambling, and when he finally gets some peace between his mom and aunt, which is sealed with a round of karaoke, Dev arrives to demand his money.  Since Phillips has yet to bring the money, everyone gathered tries to come up with as much cash as they have on hand to hopefully satisfy Dev.  When this proves to not be enough, Dev is about to take Junior as hostage until the proper amount is raised.  Before they can leave, Joe emerges with Pacquiao’s gloves and lays Dev out, freeing his son.  All this excitement seems to have gotten to the comic for shortly thereafter he passes out from a panic attack.  He awakes in the hospital with an adoring family around him, and an offer from the studio to do a different television show based on his life.

One of the reasons why I wish I had seen Easter Sunday with my friend is so that I could have understood from his perspective why this is funny.  Sitting in the theater by myself, I did not laugh.  If I find something humorous, I will yuck it up regardless of company.  One of the reasons for my relative silence is because I felt like it relied on stereotypes for comedy.  This is something by which I am increasingly disappointed.  A culture, be it Filipino or any other, is more than the deconstructed simplification that typifies such representations.  On top of this, there were a number of jokes that were re-used ad nauseum.  One is a fake commercial that Joe did for Budweiser Zero, which gets him recognized in good and bad ways.  It was mostly bad for me as every time somebody does notice him, they have to repeat the catchphrase from the ad.  This happens a lot.  The other is Joe’s agent constantly hanging up on him.  There are a few more, I suppose, but these are the most noticeable.  Again, maybe if you are a part of the Filipino culture, you might find this funnier.  For me, it was a stone-faced afternoon in the theater.

The so-called “comedy” in Easter Sunday was not the only reason for my passionless reaction.  I was not all that pleased with the Catholic side of things in the film.  Title aside, the previews seemed to indicate that Faith would be a major part of the story-telling.  Indeed, this is undoubtedly one of the reasons why my friend noticed it, not simply for the ethnicity of the characters.  He has been a major spiritual inspiration for me in recent years, living a faith-life that is to be admired.  At the same time, if he reads this, I cannot imagine he will be pleased.  There are smaller aspects that irked me, such as the incorrect robes worn by Father Hildo.  There is also no way a comedian would be allowed to give a performance in the middle of the most holy day on the Catholic calendar.  That is a bigger problem, and frankly it is rather shocking that it is in the film.  It also points to a larger issue beyond the Filipino community, and that pertains to the Faith as a whole.  Not that Hollywood would truly understand this, but Catholicism is increasingly being seen as simply a cultural trait rather than something people live.  While Susan does say a number of times that someday Baby Jesus will save her son, this is in reference to a statue that she has in her house in which $10,000 is hidden.  What I mean, too, by “cultural trait” is that Catholicism is something that people do on important holidays like Christmas and Easter, but the rest of the time they are largely absent from their church.  I hope I am wrong, but I cannot imagine any of these people in Mass on a Sunday other than Easter, unlike my good friend.

Despite my misgivings and general boredom with Easter Sunday, there is nothing too objectionable about it.  As a comedy, it is nothing special, either.  I wanted to like it more than I did, too.  I always worry when I review a movie my friends recommend to me because I do not want to disappoint them if I do not like it.  At the same time, I would not worry about your soul at all if you saw it.

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