Jay Chandrasekhar’s comedy Easter Sunday features a church scene where stand-up comedian and actor Joe Valencia (Jo Koy) inadvertently finds himself at the pulpit addressing the congregation. As he attempts to fumble his way through the significance of Easter, he turns his awkwardness into an impromptu stand-up routine about the joys and burdens that come with Filipino families gathering for the holidays. As both the majority Filipino parishioners, and the film’s audience for that matter, nod in agreement at the comical truths being spoken, the sequence perfectly encapsulates Easter Sunday’s strengths while unknowingly exposing its weaknesses as well.

At its highest peaks Easter Sunday captures the universal challenges that come with family. Whether it is the guilt trips that parents place on children, the petty jealousy and rivalry among siblings, or the pressures to live up to unrealistic expectations, the importance of maintaining familial bonds always remains at the forefront. Valencia spouts the word “family” so much that one can picture the character standing beside Vin Diesel’s, who is referenced in one of the film’s many jokes, Toretto in a Fast & Furious film.

Valencia may showcase some of Toretto’s driving skills, but it is the comedian’s family who steers the film to some of its biggest laughs. Even before Valencia and his son Junior (Brandon Wardell) arrive at his mother’s, Susan (Lydia Gaston), home for the holiday he is tipped off that another storm is brewing between her and his aunt Teressa (Tia Carrere). No one is sure what ignited this round of their seemingly never-ending petty war, but everyone is convinced that Valencia’s charming personality will eventually smooth things over as always.

Easter Sunday

While Chandrasekhar’s film does a good of sketching outlines for the roles that people tend to fall into when back amongst family, the film never fully colours in the portrait. As refreshing as it is to see a predominantly Filipino-led comedy, Easter Sunday’s engaging family dynamics are frequently overshadowed by a subplot that runs out of steam fast. A good chunk of the film involves Valencia attempting to help his well-intentioned but lacking business savvy cousin, Eugene (Eugene Cordero), who owes a local gangster, Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali), a lot of money.

It is when Valencia and Eugene are away from the rest of the family that the cracks in Easter Sunday become glaringly clear. In these sections the film frequently meanders, aimlessly workshopping bits that never reach the comedic heights of the main family’s interactions. One example of this when Valencia must shoot an impromptu commercial for a business owner played by Jimmy O. Yang. Although the subplot culminates in a great Manny Pacquiao joke near the end, the gag mainly works because it hinges on the entire family’s reaction.

Although the film misses the opportunity to fully explore the familial bonds to its full comedic potential the Blu-ray, which arrived in stores this week, comes with bonus material that captures the family ties that the cast formed off-screen. In the “Family Matters” featurette, the cast not only shares the joys of being part of a film that features a large Filipino cast, but also provide insight into their own family experiences and how it mirrored elements of the film. The “Taglish” feature finds the cast offering amusing examples of how their family members often blend Tagalog and English in everyday conversations.

Despite showing that Jo Koy is more than deserving of leading man status, and offering some solid laughs, Easter Sunday never reaches its full potential. For all its talk of family, one wishes the film had spent more of its precious time around the dinner table.

Special Features: Gag Reel, Deleted Scenes, Making Easter Sunday, Family Matters, A Day in the Life…, Taglish, Feature Commentary with Director Jay Chandrasekhar and Actor Jo Koy.