Rarer than the Loch Ness monster, but every bit as friendly and welcome, this week marks a treasurable sighting of a rare beast; the breezy, modern comedy. Not attempting to set up a multi-film cinematic universe, nor lecture us on specious morality via virtue signalling to the masses, Jessica Yu’s film aims to do little more than provide 99 minutes of merriment, and the result gets a firm recommend on this basis. It helps that Quiz Lady has got two very funny women front and centre; Sandra Oh has re-invented herself via Killing Eve and plays an Ab Fab-type who dreams of making it as an actress/singer/life-coach/whatever she thinks of that morning. And Awkwafina plays her sister, a quiet accountant who has a secret super-power; she’s got a very good grasp of general knowledge.
Developed at Netflix, but screening on Hulu in the US and Disney + in the UK, Quiz Lady is agreeably route-one fare; Anne Yum (Awkwafina) sits at home every night with her aging dog, methodically cycling through the correct answers on her favourite game-show Can’t Stop the Quiz, hosted by the jovial Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell); she’s got a real talent, but is afraid to use it. Her older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) thinks Anne should compete, and there’s a pile-up of motivations, from paying off their mother’s debts to rescuing their kidnapped dog, so Jenny slams Anne in the boot of their car and sends them off on a journey that might lead to fame and fortune, but also might not……
Quiz Lady could take place in the same world as Bridesmaids; it’s got a warm and fuzzy centre, even if the gags are tart and up-to-speed for 2023. A viral video leads to Anne getting plagued with calls from a prospective ‘sexual cannibal’, while listening to Jenny rhyming off meaningless motivational jargon makes Anne respond dryly ‘I hate all the words you just used.’ The great Holland Taylor has a funny supporting role as a clueless neighbour who might be able to help Anne deal with the charades round of the competition; in the meantime she’s got her own social anxieties about ‘the paperboy vaping drugs’ to contend with. She’s also suffering from an on-going confusion between Alan Cumming and Pee-Wee Herman that leads to a poignant cameo from the recently departed actor.
Quiz Lady sticks tightly to its own rules as Anne competes against stuck-up champion Ron Heacock (Jason Schwartzman) and her friendship with her sister enables her to overcome the odds; there’s no melodrama, just a sweet success. And the same should be said for Quiz Lady, with a sharp Jen D’Angelo script and two winning performers in Oh and Awkwafina. ‘Men don’t like it when women do things badly, muses Anne, ‘but then they don’t like it when women do things well. ‘ But everyone likes it when women are funny, and Oh, Awkwafina, D’Angelo and Yu generate the big laughs in Quiz Lady that an upbeat, undemanding comedy requires. With Hulu getting absorbed into Disney+, hopefully there’ll be more from the Yum sisters planned for further down the line….