Playing entirely against type, actresses Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight, Crazy Rich Asians) and Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy, Killing Eve) team up to channel female energy and redefine the bonds of sisterhood in game show tribute, Quiz Lady. It first screened at 2023’s Toronto International Film Festival, from Hulu and 20th Century Studios—now, this charming comedy finally comes to the streamer for an encapsulated dose of feel-good vibes at the top of November. Bolstered by game supporting performances from comedy legends, Quiz Lady is one of 2023’s most wholesome bursts of entertainment.
Ever since 1996, even as her parents screamed about money in the background, young Anne (Awkwafina) has been obsessed with her favorite game show, Can’t Stop the Quiz. Adult Anne finds herself trapped in a stuffy cubicle where her sharp skills and random knowledge go entirely under-appreciated. A call notifying Anne that her mom has gone missing from her nursing home ends up changing the entire trajectory of Anne’s life. Her estranged older sister, Jenny (Oh), shows up disheveled, assuming that their mother has tragically kicked the bucket. Instead, she is merely being expelled from the nursing home entirely.
It seems that Jenny is living out of her car, and thusly, moves in right away with Anne without much of a conversation behind the action. A former aspiring actress, Jenny seems just as aimless now as when she left the house twenty years ago. At least then, her fixation on Burbank and commitment to nabbing a spot on The Real World rather than focusing on her studies indicated a direction. Now, Jenny has decided she will “manifest” the life she wants, by way of becoming a life coach. One would expect this to be the role played by Awkwafina, while Anne seems a role more attuned to Oh’s regular choices—this change-up refreshes course, and allows both actresses to stretch their acting chops.
As a natural progression, Jenny vows to help Anne realize her potential. She secretly records Anne on her couch with adorable pug service dog Linguini as she rapid-fire answers every quiz question from her favorite show. The next day, the “quiz lady” becomes a household name. Anne goes viral against her own wishes to fade into the background. The offers start flooding in, but any kind of celebration is short-lived. It seems their mother owes a hefty gabling debt. Several thugs snatch Linguini; in order to get him back, they will need to pay up their mother’s $80,000 in debt within two weeks, lest they never see him again.
Can’t Stop the Quiz, hosted by Terry (Will Ferrell, Zoolander, Elf), has remained on the air all these years. Transforming Anne into a champion worthy of airtime on the show suddenly becomes appealing if it means Linguini’s wellbeing is on the line. At this point, Quiz Lady becomes half road trip movie, half journey of self-discovery. Anne and Jenny reopen the old wounds of their relationship, and both careen towards new and exciting possibilities. Ferrell’s performance is restrained but effective. Terry being a game show host matches the believability of the sisterly bond.
Scripting duties courtesy of Jen D’Angelo, who also wrote two of my recent favorites Hocus Pocus 2 and Totally Killer, meant expectations were high for this cutesy flick; on the flip side, director Jessica Yu was more of an anomaly. I only knew of her impressive television work, having collaborated multiple times with Ryan Murphy on American Horror Story, Ratched, and Hollywood, as well as helming several episodes of Netflix’s intense drama 13 Reasons Why. The combination of these two strong women behind the camera ends up being exactly what Quiz Lady needed to function. The dialogue remains zippy and fun, even for supporting characters like Anne’s curmudgeonly neighbor (Holland Taylor, Legally Blonde, Hollywood) and longtime quiz-show champion Ron (Jason Schwartzman, Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited).
Any movie that can fold in an adorable meaning behind “shitting in a hole” has to be doing something right. Dog lovers will worship the way Linguini ties into the greater whole. Though definitely not without its faults—was it not a glaring missed opportunity to exclude their mother from the narrative entirely beyond a voice on a phone?—Quiz Lady accomplishes an iconic showcase of its lead stars.
Try to buzz in along with Quiz Lady when the film premieres to Hulu on Friday, November 3rd.