Sandra Oh and Awkwafina excel in heartfelt comedy Quiz Lady

sandra oh, awkwafina, quiz lady
Quiz Lady review: Is it worth a watch?20th Century Studios

Jessica Yu's comedy Quiz Lady has gone through a tumultuous journey to its release - entering development in 2020, the comedy looked like it was going to be a Netflix production.

The streaming service soon left the project, allowing 20th Century Studios to quickly snap up the rights and resume development with Sandra Oh and Awkwafina still in their respective roles as sisters Jenny and Anne Yum. Three years later, it has now arrived on Disney+ in the UK and Hulu in the US.

At the start of Quiz Lady, we see that the Yum household was not a happy one, with the sisters witnessing their parents' divorce and their mother's gambling addiction. As an adult, the straight-laced Anne is used to being ignored and living with Mr Linguini, her elderly pug, and her only pleasure is watching her favourite game show, Can't Stop the Quiz.

Anne's world turns upside down when her estranged older sister, the free-spirited Jenny, returns. With loan sharks threatening them to pay back their mother's debts, the sisters set out to enter Anne into Can't Stop the Quiz to earn enough money.

sandra oh, awkwafina, quiz lady
20th Century Studios

Quiz Lady's biggest drawback is its formulaic premise. As soon as Anne's game show knowledge and the extent of her mother's debts are revealed, it becomes all too easy to see where the film is going.

This isn't helped by Jenny's overenthusiasm with Anne getting on the show and the latter's crippling anxiety, which initially mars the sister's already-fraught relationship. Jen d'Angelo's uneven screenplay tries to lift this by creating a chaotic but entertaining journey between the characters that weaves around tender conversations and amusing scenes such as an drug-induced audition so they slowly repair their relationship.

How does Quiz Lady stand out from the crowd though? Via its Asian identity, which is championed by its two lead stars.

After playing highly strung characters in Turning Red and Grey's Anatomy, the role of Jenny allows Oh to showcase a more relaxed side. Here, she's been allowed to let loose with a bold and impulsive character. As a result, she easily breezes through the movie with confidence and a natural comedic timing.

Similarly, Awkwafina breaks away from her larger-than-life characters in previous roles. Being the mature one in the duo, her muted performance as the endearing Anne is the yin to Jenny's yang; both women demonstrate aspects of their acting range that not only works in Quiz Lady, but brings depth.

sandra oh, awkwafina, quiz lady
20th Century Studios

The talented supporting cast includes Holland Taylor as Anne's brilliantly cranky neighbour Francine, Jason Schwartzman as a hideously cocky contestant, and Will Ferrell (who also co-produced) as Can't Stop the Quiz's host Terry, and they all add different elements to Quiz Lady.

In particular, Ferrell delivers an understated and touching performance that makes it a far cry from his loud, yet memorable, performances in Elf and Anchorman. This makes for a welcome change and it would be good to see more of this in future performances as it shows a less abrasive, more mature side. Ferrell doesn't overpower proceedings though to make it about him, instead supporting Oh and Awkwafina in retaining the spotlight.

In her 11th film as director, Yu implements smart direction to retain the focus on the Yum sisters. Her use of closed spaces elevate intimate shots to relay their thawing relationship while wide shots visually emphasise them being polar opposites. Her control of the narrative is also restrained so despite each obstacle and argument, the sisters aim to persevere, no matter what.

So while certain parts needs fine-tuning, Quiz Lady offers bouts of laughs and heartfelt moments with some winning performances.

3 stars
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Quiz Lady is available to watch now on Disney+ in the UK and Hulu in the US.

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