‘Quiz Lady’: Surprisingly heartfelt
Some actors are known for playing the same person in most of their movies (see: Ryan Reynolds), but this can also create the opportunity for performers to go against type and really surprise the audience. Such is the case in “Quiz Lady.”
Whether she’s in “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Renfield,” or “The Little Mermaid,” Awkwafina plays a lot of boisterous and energetic characters. Conversely, Sandra Oh has taken on a number of more reserved and austere performances, whether she’s in “Killing Eve” or “Invincible.” But “Quiz Lady” forces them to flip the script.
Awkwafina plays Anne, a quiet and unassuming woman who grew up watching a quiz show on television every night. Her older sister Jenny (Oh) is the exact opposite, bouncing from one far-fetched dream to the next. They’re brought together after their mother runs away from a retirement home.
Jenny, who is unhoused, asks if she can stay with Anne for a few days and discovers her younger sister is still watching the same game show, hosted by Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell), a television personality equal parts Alex Trebek and Mister Rogers. Not only does Anne still watch the show religiously, but she also answers each question correctly.
Unaware she’s being recorded by Jenny, Anne proceeds to run through question after question, nailing each one. Jenny then posts the video online, and it goes viral.
With her new internet fame, Anne is soon found by a loan shark (Jon "Dumbfoundead" Park) that her mother owes $80,000. The loan shark abducts Anne’s dog, Linguine, saying she’ll never see her beloved pet again unless she can come up with the money.
That’s when Jenny convinces her sister to use her new internet fame and audition for the quiz show to win the money. But Anne has horrible stage fright and balks at the challenge of going on live TV. Out of options to save her dog, Anne teams up with her sister to get on the game show and win enough prize money to pay off their mother’s debt.
At first glance, “Quiz Lady” seems like a comedy that might have mistakenly put all the best jokes in the trailer. And while the movie does take a little while to get going, once Awkwafina and Oh are together and working toward saving their dog, the film earns quite a few surprisingly heartfelt moments.
Awkwafina buckling down and playing the socially awkward game show genius, and Oh bursting into the spotlight as a lively, wacky older sister make this movie enjoyable to watch. Their chemistry as siblings is perfect, whether they’re arguing, kidnapping, doing drugs, or just sharing a rare emotional moment together.
Audiences will get the sense they really care about each other and act like real siblings. They bicker, and they run from each other, but when one is backed against a wall, the other rushes to the rescue.
It’s not just their performance as sisters that earns this film a tearful moment or two, Ferrell somehow manages to perfectly balance the role of cornball and inspirational father figure.
“Quiz Lady” packs in a few running gags that provide consistent and funny payoffs. Director Jessica Yu isn’t afraid to bring Asian identities into the humor and central story of her film. And it only serves to offer “Quiz Lady” a firmer foundation for Oh and Awkwafina as sisters.
Not every joke lands, but with the movie’s quick pace and the powerful chemistry of its lead actors, the misfires don’t bog the film down.
“Quiz Lady” is streaming today on Hulu.