In Buddy Comedy ‘Quiz Lady,’ Sandra Oh Is a Loose Cannon Who Pushes Awkwafina Out of Her Comfort Zone
It was only a matter of time before Sandra Oh and Awkwafina were to play sisters, but their roles in Hulu’s buddy comedy, “Quiz Lady,” are not what one might expect. Awkwafina plays the more grounded sister, nerdy loner, Annie Yum, while Oh is the loose cannon, slacker older sister, Jenny. Despite growing up together, the pair have little in common, but find themselves working together after their mother’s gambling debt leads to their beloved senior dog, Mr. Linguine, being kidnapped and held for ransom, and the only way they can pay Mom’s bookie is if Annie wins the top prize on her favorite game show.
Director Jessica Yu and writer Jen D’Angelo have fun playing around with different stereotypes of Asian-Americans, first going against a common one by having Annie and Jenny come from a dysfunctional divorced family. Their father was an alcoholic who fell off of a cruise ship, while their mother, an off-screen character here, is a gambling addict. Now 33 and 43, both sisters have coped in their own ways. Annie, a CPA, has shut herself off from the world, while Jenny has cycled through a multitude of non-starter careers and is living out of her car when the film begins. Annie lives for her favorite show, “Can’t Stop the Quiz,” and the only people she has regular contact with are her obnoxious coworkers and her misanthropic elderly neighbor, Francine (Holland Taylor).
After their mother busts out of her retirement home, Jenny returns to Pittsburgh, ostensibly to deal with family business, but she really needs a place to stay. It turns out Mom has left the country with a lover, but the sisters still have to clean up her mess and pay her debt of 80 grand after gangster Ken (Jon Park, a.k.a. rapper Dumbfoundead) kidnaps Mr. Linguine, a pug that originally belonged to Jenny but has been cared for by Annie for 20 years. While watching “Can’t Stop the Quiz” together, Jenny secretly tapes Annie as she answers all the questions correctly. She uploads the video to Reddit, and it quickly goes viral. Shy Annie is mortified, but that doesn’t stop Jenny from shoving her in her trunk and taking her to Philadelphia for a tryout to be a contestant on the show.
Once Jenny successfully pushes Annie out of her comfort zone, Awkwafina shines and does what she does best. Both her and Oh seem to be having a blast together, especially in some of the wackier scenes, such as when Annie takes too much of a substance her sister gives her to relax at her audition. But a lot of warmth comes through along with the silliness, as the sisters are forced to work through past traumas, and there is a lot of love between them, despite their differences and the distance that was between them all these years.
The supporting cast of “Quiz Lady” is also solid. In addition to Taylor and Park, Will Farrell is charming as Terry McTeer, the longtime host of “Can’t Stop the Quiz.” Ron Heacock (a pompous Jason Schwartzman), the current champion, is biting at the chomp to replace Terry. Tony Hale pops up as a Benjamin Franklin impersonator who has trouble fully committing to his character. Finally, the late Paul Reubens makes a cameo at the end of the film, and it is a fitting final bow for a beloved performer.
“Quiz Lady” begins streaming Nov. 3 on Hulu.