Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Jo Koy is a 51-year-old, standup comedian who is of Filipino descent. He dropped out of college to pursue standup in the 90’s. His biggest claim to fame is his appearance on the talk show Chelsea Lately (2007). Not long after, he started getting his own TV specials. His first was reportedly Don’t Make Him Angry (2009) on Comedy Central. In less than a decade, Koy started breaking records on his comedy tour, selling out venues all over the country. In 2017, Netflix gave him a TV special that was beginning of a hot streak, resulting in the Mayor of Honolulu proclaiming November 24th as “Jo Koy Day.” His comedy album Live From Seattle even hit #1 on the Billboard charts. His success caught the eye of Steven Spielberg whose company approached Koy about doing a film. Koy’s standup material mainly involves his life as a Filipino and as a father, now a single father. It’s not surprising that this film is by extension a semi-autobiographical slice-of-life with dynamics, which were probably pulled straight from his actual family.
Jo Koy stars as Joe Valencia, a standup comedian who is Filipino and is a single father to a teenage son. It’s not clear if he has joint custody of his son or not, but his relationship with his ex-wife is good, if not somewhat strained. Joe is criticized as not always being there for his son. Joe is an aspiring actor who is constantly trying to get his agent to get him roles in projects. Joe is currently trying to get a lead role on a TV show. He frequently puts his auditions and meetings for it ahead of his son, which obviously upsets the boy and frustrates his ex-wife.
Joe lives in Los Angeles, but the majority of his family lives in Daly City, which is in the San Francisco area. Daly City has a predominantly Asian community and predominantly Filipino population. Jo Koy is from the Seattle area, but, making a film that centers Filipinos is better served in a place like Daly City. We don’t learn about Joe’s father, but his mother, his siblings, his aunt and his cousins all live in Daly City. He’s been gone for a while, but his mother invites him to come visit for the holiday. Joe sees the opportunity to bond with his son, Joe Jr., played by Brandon Wardell. Joe Jr. is a little mad about his father missing important events in order to pursue getting a TV show, but agrees to go with his father on this road trip.
When Joe and Joe Jr. arrive in Daly City, they reunite with the family. The relatives are loud, crazy and at times eccentric. Instead of Crazy Rich Asians (2018), it’s “crazy poor Asians.” There are a lot of things here that provide insight into the Filipino culture, in terms of foods, customs and language, but it’s not as much insight as to be alienating to anyone not of Asian descent. The family here is not that uncommon from a family in a film like My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) or any of Tyler Perry’s Madea titles. There is a some tension. Most of it revolving around Joe’s mother.
Lydia Gaston (The Blacklist and The Sopranos) plays Susan Valencia, the mother to Joe. She’s continually calling her son, checking on him and inviting him back home. She seems to have a complex about being a bad mother. An incident in the past has convinced her that she didn’t do enough as a mother, so she tries to overcompensate. She also develops a rivalry with her sister whom she thinks considers herself a better mother. Susan has what’s probably a normal, sibling rivalry with her sister, but when it comes to making meals and hosting parties, she wants to be better than her sister. Her insecurity about being a mother and her friction with Joe parallels the friction that forms between Joe and Joe Jr., as this film comments on parenthood to a degree.
Eugene Cordero (Star Trek: Lower Decks and The Good Place) co-stars as Eugene, the cousin to Joe who asks Joe for twenty grand to start a taco truck business. Unfortunately, Eugene doesn’t invest the money properly and he actually goes into debt, owing a local gangster named Dev Deluxe, played by Asif Ali (WandaVision and Wrecked). Eugene’s bad business practices lead to the film’s dilemma and plot. Joe has to help Eugene payback the gangster. This forces him to visit various places and people in Daly City, trying to come up with the money.
Jo Koy takes time out to bring the film to a screeching halt, so that his character can deliver a legit standup comedy set. Strangely, it’s not as funny, as Cordero and Ali are in their respective scenes. Cordero is a lovable idiot whose swing between hype man and humble sweetheart can be charming, which frustrates Joe in a funny way. Ali delivers some great insults and witty lines, as he plays this thug who gets more laughs than Koy. A bit involving Lou Diamond Phillips also garnered laughs. Tiffany Haddish pops up in this film and her shtick isn’t that effective here.
There aren’t many films that put Asian characters and in fact a whole Asian family in the forefront. When it comes to Filipino-Americans, there’s very slim pickings. Hopefully, this will shine a spotlight on the Filipino actors here and give them more opportunities to shine. I’d love to see more of Cordero and Wardell for example. However, the ending here is hoaky. The existence of this film suggests that it’s not, but the ending does come about in a way that felt totally contrived.
Rated PG-13 for certain situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.