Review by C.J. Bunce
As striking, successful movie appearances go Awkwafina is ten for ten. From Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians to a rapid-fire win streak in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Jumanji: The Next Level, Raya and the Last Dragon, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and this year’s Renfield (not to mention her hit TV series, Nora from Queens), Awkwafina has risen to become the most reliable and bankable actress in Hollywood. She’s absolutely the funniest, and that’s loud and clear in Quiz Lady, a new comedy now streaming on Hulu co-starring Sandra Oh and Will Ferrell. And it may be the best–and certainly the most unusual–performances yet by both Sandra Oh and Jason Schwartzman.
Also, if you’re a fan of the late Paul Reubens, consider the movie required viewing.
Awkwafina plays Anne Yum, a CPA in her 30s, whose sole excitement each day is watching a TV game show with her dog Mr. Linguini starring Terry McTeer (played by Will Ferrell), a show she’s watched her entire life–so much that she’s a whiz at the Jeopardy-type set-up and answers. We see Anne in her early years played by Jodi Hou (who should go down as the best casting decision in years since she’s a ringer for Awkwafina) as her sister moving out and her parents fighting and splitting up happened around her. Shirley Chen is great as young Jenny, too.
When a problem with her erratic mom brings Anne back in touch with frenetic and animated forty-something sister Jenny (played by Sandra Oh), the result is an updated take on Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Awkwafina and Oh have instant chemistry, bickering like real sisters, one-upping each other, and worse. Regardless of conflicts, Jenny moves in with Anne. No sooner than Jenny is in the door, a loan shark (played by Jon Park) arrives to tell Anne that he’s taken her dog to collect on her mother’s gambling debts. She has two weeks to come up with $80,000.
Anne is an introvert with a capital I. She doesn’t partake in office fun and hides from the hounding of her next door neighbor, played by long-time comedy queen Holland Taylor. In one of the best side-bits audiences learn the neighbor is a fan of PBS Mystery host Alan Cumming–she even has a photo of him on her shelf, which is actually a picture of Paul Reubens.
Sister Jenny’s solution is signing up Anne for the quiz show–after she films her and uploads her intellectual acrobatics to social media, which of course goes viral. Anne is furious, but wants Mr. Linguini back, especially when the loan shark sends video showing how much the dog is fitting in and enjoying his new digs. The horror! Of course Jenny almost botches the local tryouts for Anne by giving her drugs to help with her nerves. When she’s in her element, Anne is truly fun to watch shout-out all sorts of great trivia responses.
From director and Academy Award winner Jessica Yu and writer Jen D’Angelo, the Jeopardy-esque quiz show in many ways makes Quiz Lady the latest Saturday Night Live sketch-turned-movie. The show within the show is a toned down version of Will Ferrell’s many years of parodying Alex Trebek on years of SNL shows. Ferrell, who is a producer on the film, is warm and genuine as the host, making this a fine, unique addition to Ferrell’s portfolio. Making the game harder for Jenny is a repeat winner played by Jason Schwartzman, a dialed up version of many of his past characters as an annoying know-it-all who also appears to want to take over the hosting job of the show. Schwartzman’s player is also a commentary on the absurdity of celebrities vying for Alex Trebek’s job after his death.
Awkwafina and Oh play off each other like Lucy and Ethel on I Love Lucy. The silly off-color and off-sides laughs are so gut-bustingly funny expect to need breaks so you won’t have convulsions or hyperventilate from laughing. This kind of humor needs its own version of a strobe-light warning.
Look for Paul Reubens in his final film appearance, an excellent send-off at movie’s end. Chuck and Arrested Development regular, and Medium, Psych, and Community guest star Tony Hale has a cameo as a Ben Franklin cosplayer/hotel manager.
It’s sweet, it’s hilarious, and it’s everything you want in two hours of comedy. I loved this movie. For fans of the actors, trivia, charades, and good comedy, don’t miss Quiz Lady, streaming now on Hulu.