When watching Quiz Lady, the first thing that came to me was this strange wave of 90s nostalgia. It was like I was watching the early films of Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Farley, and Will Ferrell, only this time it had Awkwafina and Sandra Oh in the starring roles. This isn’t a slight against the film, but instead I found it a bit refreshing, despite being a familiar formula. While this time of year a lot of us are used to seeing films that are heavy on the drama and are fighting for awards contention, this is a film that is instead a fun comedy that definitely doesn’t take itself seriously. Anne (Awkwafina), is a boring young woman who is single and lives on her own, well, at least with the exception of her adorable pug, Linguini. The only thing that seems to bring any excitement (I’m being generous here) is that every evening at 7 o-clock she watches her favorite game show, “Can’t Stop The Quiz”. The game show is a lot like Jeopardy and has Will Ferrell playing the mild-mannered host who Anne has a bit of an obsession with. While Anne may be content with her boring life along with having to deal with her curmudgeon of a neighbor, Francine (Holland Taylor), her life is about to get thrown for a loop when she finds out her mom has escaped the nursing home. It turns out Anne’s mom has fled the country to run away from some gambling debts ($80 thousand worth, to be exact), and this is when her sister, Jenny (Sandra Oh) enters the picture looking for a place to stay. Of course, in this scenario Jenny is the total opposite of Anne; she’s fun, charming, aloof, and completely irresponsible, so we all know this Odd Couple situation is just a recipe for disaster. That disaster turns out to be a gangster kidnapping Linguini as way to get Anne to pay off her mother’s debts. If this sounds silly and ridiculous, I can assure you it is even more absurd than it sounds, but that’s OK; Awkwafina and Sandra Oh make this work.
Just how do these oddball siblings get out of this mess, you may ask? Jenny has decided to become a life coach and wants to make Anne her first project. Jenny has seen that her sister is pretty much Rain Man when it comes to her quiz show, and she plans to make Anne a contestant on the show and win it to get the money and pay off the gangster and get her adorable pug back … I did say this got more absurd, right? As the film progresses, there are several entertaining characters, and one little surprise appearance along the way that I couldn’t help but smile about. I feel like when you see it, you’ll know what I mean. Will Ferrell does great here. It’s hard not to think about his portrayal of Alex Trebek on SNL, but he injects a bit more charm in this role; and then there is Jason Schwartzman, who seems to be having fun playing a smarmy returning game show champion.
The film has more heart than you’d expect. A lot of the focus is on the fractured relationship between the two siblings and them over the course of the film working out their differences and developing an adorable bond. It’s a little weird how well this film works. It’s predictable; we’ve seen it before; but still it ropes you in and keeps you entertained from start to finish. It’s funny how wholesome the film is. At times you’d think you were watching an older Disney family film, till suddenly characters are having drug-fueled hallucinations and dropping F-bombs all over the place. It’s rated R for good reason, but I feel this easily could have been altered enough to become PG-13. I feel like this either should have committed to being a family film or just gone a little crazier and went for a harder R, because otherwise the tone of this film is a bit disjointed. Just choosing a more solid direction would have made it a stronger film either way they went.
At the end of the day, the film is far from perfect, but it sure is charming and is a fun escape for about a 100 minutes. We can use more movies like this. They don’t have to be great, but just a fun way to pass the time while having a few laughs. The film will be playing exclusively on HULU starting November 3.