Quiz Lady knows what you expect involving a comedy that’s also heartfelt, combining opposite siblings. It’s even to the extent of incorporating other scenarios you would recognize. Sandra Oh and Awkafina could have easily swamped characters in another prototypical vision of what this film could be. Jessica Yu’s directorial vision places the actresses places them a little out of their comfort zones, and it powers the overall story into something you will enjoy.
Anne (Awkwafina) and Jenny’s (Oh) early home life isn’t exactly the best. Their father leaves the house in a rage because of his wife/their mother’s ongoing gambling problem. Thus, the sisters find different ways to cope with all the madness. Anne’s is within a trivia show named Can’t Stop the Quiz with Mr. Rodgers like host Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell). It’s a routine she holds onto well into her adult years – even going as far as having a timer for the show for her and her loyal Pug, Mr. Linguini. Surely, we all know a friend who’s watched so many episodes of Jeopardy that they answer every question rapidly. That’s precisely what Anne does, but she never ponders going on the show herself because she likes to lay low.
Jenny, well, she’s the more eccentric of the two sisters. There was one point where she wanted to be an actress, then a fashion designer, and has now settled on being a life coach. The two have been estranged for some time, but their mother’s penchant to get herself into trouble creates fertile ground for the sister to reunite. Not too long after finding out their mom was about to get kicked out of her nursing home before she ran off, Jenny’s blue streak and extensive jewelry-wearing aura come back into tempered life of Anna.
Not to mention, their mom has incurred an enormous debt, and bookie Ken (Jon “Dumbfoundead” Park) has taken Mr. Linguini as collateral. Quiz Lady has its sense of urgency, although it almost falls to the wayside for the more entertaining storyline of these sisters trying to reconnect with one another. To get this massive amount of money, Jenny has the bright idea for Anne to audition for Can’t Stop the Quiz. Even if she were to make it through, there’s the matter of beating the rather full of himself current champion, Ron Heacock (Jason Schwartzman).
Maybe Jenny’s outgoing nature will be able to rub off on Anne to achieve her wildest dreams. In turn, Anne can show Jenny the wise ways of responsibility. Much of this follows the throughline of what you would think like a road trip, an unknowing taking of psychedelic drugs at an inopportune time, and an ultimate falling out because it feels like these personalities are too much for one another. Awkwafina and Oh do their best to make those themes as non-cumbersome as possible. Yu’s foresight also provides great jokes and observations that chronicle the Asian-American experience.
Writer Jen D’Angelo provides markers at points of the film that aren’t just a footnote to get them back on the same page. It’s a specific story that comes around again in a very subtle and sweet way, highlighting what differentiates Quiz Lady from all the other comedies like it. It’s not always perfect, and many roads it chooses to go down are left hanging as outliers. But the film nails the parts it’s good at and allows its leads to enhance their overall arcs to satisfying effect.