top of page

Review: 'Quiz Lady' Elevates the Comedy Stylings of Awkwafina and Sandra Oh in Trivial Sibling Story

"Don't go anywhere. I know I won't!"

Awkwafina is Anne, a game show enthusiast who prides herself on possessing encyclopedic knowledge in her favorite show, "Can't Stop the Quiz." Obsessed with the show's formulaic combination of trivia and charades, the lonely and uninspired Anne counts the minutes until the game show starts every day. If she isn't able to watch the "Jeopardy" rip-off, she has a total meltdown a la Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man." Having practically raised herself after her older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) skips town, Anne is tasked with putting their gamboholic mother in a nursing home. "Can't Stop the Quiz" is her only saving grace in life…that and her dog Pickle.

Anne's best friend is routine, and the game show is her comfort food. Throwing a wrench into Anne's humdrum life, her mother escapes the nursing home to avoid goons who wish to collect on her mountainous gambling debts. Said goons kidnap Anne's elderly dog, and Jenny returns home to help Anne earn enough money to pay off the debts, track down their mother, and get the dog home safe and sound. All Anne needs to do is audition for her favorite game show and become a champion.

Directed by Jessica Yu and written by Jen D'Angelo, "Quiz Lady" had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year to great applause. It's a showcase of talent for both Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, two actors known for their work in dramas and comedies alike. Here, the two play off one another as best as a sibling portrayal can be, resulting in monologues from both actors dictating their characters' distrust of one another and their respective varying personalities.

The film is a ball-busting romp through game show lore, depicting a game show similar to what "Jeopardy" was roughly 20 years ago. Back then, Ken Jennings went on an unstoppable run that netted the contestant millions and made him a household name for being the most intelligent guy in the room. "Quiz Lady" takes a page out of Jennings' historic appearances, with actor Jason Schwartzman stepping into the role of a longtime contestant whose ego and pompous intelligence make him the villain in Anne's story. A scene-stealing, bow-tie-wearing Will Ferrell stands in as the show's host and someone Anne admires as a father figure. Unlike his famous "Saturday Night Live" take on then-host Alex Trebek, Ferrell is much more subdued and charismatic here than his comedy chops have allowed him to be in past movies.

"Quiz Lady" does not break the mold of comedy, nor does it give a new perspective to a growing trend of movies showing actors playing against type to garner laughs. Awkwafina brings predictably deadpan energy to the role of Anne, a protagonist that's hard to root for when she makes mistake after mistake as the film progresses. But her heart is in the right place, as Anne is constantly concerned for her dog's well-being and hellbent on achieving her goal of becoming a champion of her favorite game show. Sandra Oh's Jenny is stereotypically chaotic, but Oh makes the character work on several levels, particularly given the two leads' 17-year age gap. She's strong-willed, determined, saucy, and all around so fun to watch.

The film benefits from strong supporting work by "Veep" actor Tony Hale and "Legally Blonde" alum Holland Taylor. Both actors are terribly underused in their respective roles, but they give it their all for a bit of a messy script. Some surprises come about towards the film's end that will either delight audiences or force them to believe it's too soon for these types of cameos.

However, "Quiz Lady" is remarkably funny with its slapstick nature, purposeful diverse casting of quirky characters and heartwarming slice-of-life presentation. This is a film whose primary goal is for its audience to believe that a stubborn, lonely 30-something is going on a trivia game show to win enough money to pay off loan sharks to save her dog and her emotionally distant mother: A considerable stretch, and yet, it works. Chemistry goes a long way in this movie, and it starts from the top, with Awkwafina and Sandra Oh playing opposite one another in whacky fashion.

Some jokes fall flat, some punch the gut, and a few keep you laughing minutes after the scene has ended. Jenny's messy life gets tiresome, while Anne's obsession with trivia might require some therapy. But it's a kooky story that gets some time in the sun for its no-holds-barred approach to comedy without sacrificing the talent of its ensemble cast.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟1/2


bottom of page