It’s hard to say what will stick out for viewers when it comes to Jessica Yu‘s Quiz Lady, as the film is an unexpectedly pleasant delight from start to finish. It’s not perfect by any means, but Yu finds a sharp balance between comedy and vulnerability, crafting a story that’s essentially a love letter to heroes and sisters.
Quiz Lady is full of tremendous talent, starring Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, who make one heck of a comedy duo. (More of these two in films as scene-partners, please and thank you.) But the film also stars Will Ferrell, Holland Taylor, and Jason Schwartzman, among other known faces, in a comedic feast with facts spewing left and right. It’s a success because of its well-crafted screenplay from Jen D’Angelo, Yu’s directing, and each and every performer who brings their all to a simple plot that’s brimming with sadder undertones of negligence and desires to be seen.
In more ways than one, Quiz Lady will be remembered for Awkwafina and Sandra Oh’s performances—the two of them as sisters are everything we didn’t know we needed and so much more. Oh’s talents are often unmatched, and we know this much because of her remarkable range in drama films and series. But few remember that Oh is also unbeatable when it comes to comedy, and in Quiz Lady, she kicks it up a notch.
The film’s premise, albeit incredibly dramatic, is relatively simple. When two sisters, Anne and Jenny, find out that their mother owes a large sum of money, they begrudgingly band together to find the amount to save their dog from ransom. As polar opposites of each other who’ve drifted apart, Quiz Lady ultimately challenges the sisters, showcasing throughout the film’s subtext why their love for one another matters more than anything. The film’s thematic importance thus lies in this idea that there’s always far more than meets the eye, and the people who care will always show up, even when they believe they are no longer welcome.
Its most hilarious moments are driven by utterly chaotic scenes that allow Awkwafina and Oh to bring out their A-game. While Awkwafina’s Anne is more stoic, wearing her emotions on her sleeve in a riveting manner that allows her to play on sadness from her expressions and physicality, Oh’s Jenny is all over the place, riding on a cloud of oblivion, playing a role in hiding how much she cares. In the hands of lesser-skilled actors, much of the film could’ve fallen flat, but the stars take what’s on the page and elevate it while the screenplay utilizes the past to add depth to the present.
The details within this in-universe TV quiz show threads the characters to a more relatable place, revealing why having someone in your corner matters. The final stretch of the film uses high tension and emotional stakes to bring sisterhood front and center while allowing Awkwafina and Oh to play off one another in a startling, chaotic fashion. It’s the kind of scene where, if you’re even a little emotional, you’re laughing hysterically and crying at the same time. I know I was.
Quiz Lady isn’t without its faults—for one, there’s a plethora of depth in Ferrell’s character as the game show host that the film could’ve benefited from delivering more on. There’s also the idea that we never see the mother, which is both a great thing and slightly underwhelming. Still, it’s enjoyable through and through, with incredible performances and thoughtful execution.
Quiz Lady premieres on Hulu on November 3.