Quiz Lady is one of the funniest movies of the year with non-stop laughter from start to finish. The latest film from director Jessica Yu starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh premiered at TIFF 2023 to a boisterous and joyful audience.
The comedy is about two sisters who are dealing with the gambling debts of their absconded mother and must learn to heal old wounds and come together to pay the debts so that Anne (Awkwafina) can get her prized dog Mr. Linguini back from the loan sharks. Anne’s love for the long running quiz show “Can’t Stop the Quiz” seems like the perfect answer to the problem. It is up to Jenny (Sandra Oh) who must convince her nervous, socially awkward, anxiety plagued younger sister to be a contestant on the show.
Once the premise of the film is explained to the audience, it is easy to predict the outcome, but what makes Quiz Lady such a joy is the pairing of Sandra Oh and Awkwafina. Oh is the wild child free spirit sister, while Awkwafina plays the straight laced organized sister. In Quiz Lady we get to see how multi-talented these two actors are, and they are VERY good together.
The heart of the tale on screen has a note of sadness that permeates much of the two characters’ choices. From a broken home with a mother who can’t stop gambling and doesn’t seem to care about her daughters, we meet Anne who is just trying to survive life, while Jenny is still trying to manifest her destiny.
Anne’s lifelong comfort of “Can’t Stop the Quiz” will end up being the solution to all her problems. The comedy has heart and merit that will keep audiences hooked from the first moment to the last, but what makes this movie such a standout at TIFF 2023 is the sheer brilliance of Oh and Awkwafina’s work on the screen.
They bring an energy to the film that is explosive and charming, and never lets up. Even when the story tone shifts in emotional arc, both actors maintain an intensity that is not only heartwarming, but very funny.
Awkwafina has a difficult job playing Anne. She must have sense and purpose in her life, even while trying to avoid most interactions with people. Her moments of fear at encountering her neighbor Francine, played with a sarcastic and cynical biting wit by Holland Taylor, is just one of the many moments of life that is difficult for Anne. How Awkwafina plays those scenes where she fumbles with her keys while trying to please her neighbor so that she can end this social encounter as soon as possible, is brilliant.
It’s your family that will help you break out of your shell and reunification with Jenny is something that Anne needs whether she likes it or not. Slowly you can see how Awkwafina’s performance changes based on the metamorphosis of Anne’s relationship with Jenny.
Awkwafina’s Anne cannot work unless Jenny is a dynamic scene grabbing opposite and Sandra Oh is simply award worthy in this performance. Playing the older sister who is desperately trying to find her own happiness whether it’s from a lawsuit against a restaurant, or by becoming a life coach, Jenny isn’t sure what to do with her life. When Jenny realizes that she can help Anne, her purpose changes and finally the audience sees the nurturing caring big sister that was always there.
Sandra Oh is hilarious because we don’t expect her to play this type of role. Audiences now know that Oh can do anything and does it brilliantly.
Quiz Lady rests on the shoulders of Oh and Awkwafina, but the supporting cast is perfectly matched to their roles. From Holland Taylor being the worst neighbor in the world, to Jason Schwartzman as the despicable quiz show champ Ron, to a surprising heartfelt performance from Will Ferrell as Terry McTeer, the host of the quiz show, Quiz Lady is one movie that hits every note perfectly.