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Quiz Lady TIFF Review: Awkwafina and Sandra Oh Bring Down the House


Quiz Lady
Awkwafina and Sandra Oh in Quiz Lady (Credit: Hulu)

Awkwafina is one of the great comedic talents of her generation, and her talent is on full display in the upcoming Hulu comedy, Quiz Lady. There, she plays a young woman who is obsessed with a Jeopardy! style game show, until she finds herself having to get on the program to cover her mother’s gambling debts. She’s joined by her sister, who Sandra Oh plays with pure funny bones. The end result is one of the fall season’s most entertaining watch-at-home-films.

Jessica Yu, mostly a TV director, helms Quiz Lady, from a script by Jen D’Angelo. Awkwafina is the thirty-something Anne, a cat lady in all but age—and in cat. She cares for an aging, fat pug called Mr. Linguini, who she pets longingly while she watches the host of the show—played by Will Ferrell, channeling Alex Trebek—spin out the signature quirks he has for over 30 years on air. The actual cat lady is her next door neighbor, who lives in No. 666 and is played by a remarkably still working Holland Taylor. 

The neighbor torments Anne, as do her coworkers, such that her only solace is the comfortable routine of knowing all the answers in the nightly “Can’t Stop the Quiz.” Indeed, this has been Anne’s sole recourse since she was four, when her father abandoned her, and her mother may as well have, always gambling her money away. And her older sister Jenny (Oh) was no better, using eccentricity and extreme selfishness as a defense to her parents’ neglect and abandonment.

But when the nursing home calls to announce that they have “lost their mother” (to a casino in Macau) and a local thug kidnaps Mr. Linguini to collect a gambling debt, Jenny decides that she will life coach Anne into fixing everything by getting her on the game show.

Plotwise, certainly you can imagine what is in store, both with respect to Anne’s appearance on the gameshow and for the relationship between her and her sister. Nobody watches a film like Quiz Show to have the rug pulled out from under you. One watches them to laugh, and boy will you ever. The script delivers the laughs from beginning to end.

Awkwafina has never been better, too, which is saying a lot. Sure, she has played the oddball girl who does not fit in before. But here she is the unabashed protagonist and is given one of the biggest opportunities of her still young career to stretch her acting and comedic chops. Her bass voice and even deeper delivery help tremendously, and she lights up the screen despite insisting visibly that she wants to darken it.

The biggest revelation belongs to Sandra Oh, who one does not necessarily associate with such campy funny roles. Here, she’s asked to play someone who’s never had a job, who is inherently a scam artist with too many tattoos, hair extensions, and feelings. She does it fiercely and unapologetically, without being afraid to show any part of herself.

The two have incredibly comedic timing and chemistry, and elevate and already excellent script to the next level. It says a lot that only two gags in a comedy miss the mark, which is impressive considering most comedies these days quickly run out their welcome. It’s pure comedy with the right amount of drama. The insufferable emotional moments—staples of any comedy—are kept to the absolute bare minimum, showing that the screenwriter respects her audience more than most.

It is common at film festivals to feel as if you’ve been hit by an emotional bus. But sometimes moviegoers just want to forget all the suffering and laugh. Quiz Lady delivers all of that and then some, and its young star once again demonstrates why she is a comedy force to be reckoned with.

Grade: A-

Quiz Lady Premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9 and will be streaming via Hulu on November 3, 2023.

Twitter: @jdonbirnam

Instagram: @awards_predix

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