THE STORY – Anne and her estranged train-wreck of a sister, Jenny, must work together to help cover their mother’s gambling debts. When Anne’s beloved dog is kidnapped, they set out on a wild cross-country trek to get the cash.
THE CAST – Awkwafina, Sandra Oh, Jason Schwartzman, Jessica Elbaum, Holland Taylor, Tony Hale, Jon “Dumbfoundead” Park & Will Ferrell
THE TEAM – Jessica Yu (Director) & Jen D’Angelo (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
Gambling debt, ransom money, and kidnapping are what one might expect in a crime noir or a thriller action flick, not a heartfelt comedy revolving around a stolen pug, a trivia game show, and the bonding of two polar opposite sisters. In Jessica Yu’s latest film, “Quiz Lady,” this is precisely the case as she combines outlandish hilarity with touching sincerity. With the likes of Awkwafina and Sandra Oh at the forefront of this chaotic ride, an endearing, sharply hilarious premise, and even Will Ferrell bringing his comedic charm, this film is an utter success in bringing the laughs and the somewhat unexpected and sincere emotions.
“Quiz Lady” follows a quiet, slightly frumpy Anne (Awkwafina) who spends most of her time closed up at home eating TV dinners with her chubby beloved pug, Linguini, and watching her favorite show: “Can’t Stop the Quiz.” Anne is a master at this trivia-centered gameshow, having never missed an episode and often answering the questions to herself before the contestants on screen can. Her life is mundane and straightforward, and she appears to like it this way. That is until her mother seemingly escapes her senior living residence with her boyfriend Jeff to Macau, leaving behind a large gambling debt for her and her outlandish, quirky older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) to deal with. Things become serious when a rugged group of individuals steals the one and only Linguini as collateral, demanding the debts of the two sisters’ mother be paid off to get the dog back. In a desperate attempt to get the money they need in the only way they can think of, the two sisters take off on a cross-country road trip to enter Anne into the “Can’t Stop the Quiz” show to win the game, get Linguini back and pay back their mother’s debt once and for all.
The performances throughout “Quiz Lady” are an absolute treat, as Awkwafina and Sandra Oh put their all into the hilarious, quirky sister characters who are the complete antithesis of one another. We see the two women in refreshing roles we are not used to seeing from either of them and the more they comically ham it up, the more joy radiates off the screen. They genuinely elevate the already lovely material they are given, as it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking place in their roles. Will Ferrell portrays a delightfully sweet game show host, Terry McTeer, with a love of bowties who brings back innocently sincere energy akin to his character in “Elf,” and there’s Holland Taylor who plays Francine, a curmudgeon of a neighbor of Anne’s who may complain and bicker constantly but has a deep love of charades. It would be unfair not to mention Jason Schwartzman, who plays the thoroughly obnoxious though ridiculously hilarious trivia champion of “Can’t Stop the Quiz,” who has yet to be dethroned by any other contestant. Between all the talent playing off one another, almost all the jokes land, from the ridiculousness of a Benjamin Franklin-themed hotel the sisters are forced to stay in, to a gang of tough men who rescue unwanted puppies. There are no awards-worthy performances to be found here, but that wasn’t what they were meant to be for — the actors appear to be experiencing much pleasure in playing their characters. Their delight and jubilation shine on the screen, inducing giggles and chuckles, which is exactly what they came to do.
Written by Jen D’Angelo, her collaboration with director Jessica Yu brings the story to vibrant life. It’s obvious the two had a soft spot for this comedy, taking care to develop satisfying character arcs, tackle a bit of familial drama but nothing too heavy, and wrapping it up at the perfect 99-minute mark on a pleasant note reminiscent of early 2000s comedies. A handful of recurring bits and jokes genuinely hit the mark, and as the film doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously, it seems to throw out outlandish bits of comedy at ease, seeing if they land, which they often do. It’s also fair to say there are more simple themes at hand here, such as believing in yourself, destiny, and fate and taking risks in life rather than playing it safe. These overarching themes and ideas somewhat fall short of having a significant impact as they are predictable tropes. Still, they are handled so refreshingly and with such delight that it’s an accessible folly to forgive the film for.
“Quiz Lady” is definitely one to catch on its release on Hulu come November. It’s an invigorating and crowd-pleasing film with wonderful representation being an Asian and female-lead comedy. It’s also a welcome palate cleanser that stands out amongst a plethora of other, albeit great, heavy drama-laden films as of late. With memorable performances by Oh, Awkwafina, and Ferrell, genuinely genius and hilarious direction by Yu, and a heartwarming story at its core of two sisters reconnecting again over the genuinely adorable and scene-stealing pug Linguini, this one has the chops to become a delightful comedy classic in the years to come.