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HomeReviewsJessica Yu's 'Quiz Lady' is a Rollicking Film About Celebrity and Obsession

Jessica Yu’s ‘Quiz Lady’ is a Rollicking Film About Celebrity and Obsession

A delightful and rollicking film in the “crazy Asian” genre, Jessica Yu’s Quiz Lady takes a light-hearted look at the lives of two Korean-American sisters whose temperaments seem as different as yin and yang.

There’s Anne Yum (played by Awkwafina), the introverted brainiac who is obsessed with “Can’t Stop the Quiz,” a television game show—she knows all the answers, of course. And there’s her sibling Jenny (Sandra Oh), described by the film’s producers as an “estranged, train-wreck of a sister.” When their mother decamps with her boyfriend to the casinos of Macao, Anne and Jenny must scramble to cover the gambling debts the older woman has left behind.

Complicating their challenge is the fact that Anne’s beloved canine, Mr. Linguini, has been dognapped and is being held hostage by a seedy bunch of extortionists. In the wake of this development, Jenny concocts a wild scheme to pay off the ransom by—you guessed it—conniving to get the reluctant Anne selected as a contestant on “Can’t Stop the Quiz.”

Not surprisingly, in pursuit of her mission, the train-wrecked Jenny barrels down the track like a speeding locomotive. Unbeknownst to her sister, she posts videos on social media about Anne’s game-show obsession, which go viral and attract the attention of the show’s producers. It’s pure mayhem from then on, until Anne finally dethrones the quiz-show’s champion and the sisters reconcile after their shared misadventures.

Photo by Courtesy of 20th Century Studios/20th Century Studios – © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

What’s particularly appealing about this loony film is the obvious symbiosis between director Jessica Yu and screenwriter Jen d’Angelo, who have done a  superb job in weaving these disparate characters into an ensemble that is guaranteed to keep the chuckles coming.

Not to mention the superbness of the cast itself.  Each character seems to have been born into his or her role, with just the right note of quirkiness. Awkafina (Anne) is the embodiment of the nerdy Asians who stereotypically spend their off-hours memorizing vast databases of just about everything. Sandra Oh (Jenny) is the kind of wild but lovable woman who lends just the right note of chaotic dishevelment is the life of every party and karaoke get-together. But there’s nothing stereotypical about their performances in Quiz Lady. Watching their adventures and misadventures, you don’t think of them as Asian particularly. They are humans first and formidable, prone to messing things up as they strut and fret on the stage.

Kudos also to some of the supporting characters. There’s Will Ferrell, who plays Terry McTeer, the bowtie-obsessed game-show host, and there’s Tony Hale, the eccentric innkeeper who imagines himself to be a reincarnation of Ben Franklin. Also notable are Jason Schwartzmann as Ron Heacock, the smarmy quiz-show champion that Anne topples from his throne, and Holland Taylor as Francine, Anne’s long-suffering next-door neighbor.

Photo by Courtesy of 20th Century Studios/20th Century Studios – © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Humor can be a difficult element to convey in a film about people coming from disparate cultures. But the creators of—and performers in—Quiz Lady seem to have instinctively settled upon scenarios that tickle the funny bone in all of us, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, and all the other labels that people use.

Who wouldn’t find it funny, for example, to be checked into an inn by a bumbling Ben Franklin lookalike who refuses to acknowledge the existence of modern technology like telephones and computers? Who wouldn’t find it funny to watch Jenny admit she’d pooped in her relative’s back yard during a visit years beforehand? Who wouldn’t find it funny to walk down a TV-studio corridor hung with thousands of bowties (scalps?) worn over the years by a game-show host who associates every single one of them with a contestant? Who wouldn’t find it funny to watch Anne and Terry McTeer struggle to hang up (albeit crookedly) the tie he wore when this new Quiz Lady joined the pantheon?

What’s ultimately so neat about Quiz Lady is the way it can be enjoyed by audiences with a wide swath of expectations. While the film is certainly funny in its own right, it can also be seen as a gentle satire on the American obsession with success and celebrity, and on the notion that recalling trivial facts is somehow equivalent to true wisdom. It’s a pleasure to see these verities presented in such light-hearted fashion. Give this film five bowties—if not bowwows.

Photo by Courtesy of 20th Century Studios/20th Century Studios – © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Edward Moran
Edward Moran
Edward Moran began his journalistic career many decades ago as a theater and cinema reviewer for Show Business and the New York Theater Review. More recently he contributed film reviews to and Movie Sleuth. His writings have appeared in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, the Paris Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Moran also edited a memoir by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Christine Choy. He served as literary advisor to her film Hyam Plutzik: American Poet, which was the keynote film in the American Perspectives series at the 2007 Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.


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