Quiz Lady Review

NOTE: SPOILERS WITHIN FOR QUIZ LADY!

As of this writing, I am a few days away from competing with my teammates in a Trivia playoff of Top Ten regional teams! It actually takes place on my birthday this year.

As always, I’ll be hoping for questions about professional wrestling, Pokemon, or horror movies. As usual, I’m sure the questions will be about flags, guessing peoples’ faces by their eyes, and U.S. history. Regardless, I will endeavor to do my best at how many states were part off the Louisiana Purchase or whatever instead of how many Halloween movies there have been. But I did just see a commercial for Wal-Mart featuring a Squirtle plush, so maybe that’s an omen.

Come on. Just one “Who’s That Pokemon” question, DJ Trivia. That’s all I ask. I just want to be useful to my team. I can totally identify a Blissey. Let’s do it. Call it a birthday present.

Anyway, in preparation for the trivia playoffs this year, I watched the new Hulu original streaming movie, Quiz Lady!

(Okay, that’s not true; it’s more just serendipity that the movie released the same week as my playoffs and that I will watch anything starring Awkwafina, but STILL. We can pretend it was prep)

Quiz Lady is the story of Annie (Awkwafina), the socially anxious younger sister to the more outgoing and free-spirited Jenny (Sandra Oh). Annie is obsessed with a Jeopardy style show called Can’t Stop The Quiz. She has watched every episode of the show (hosted by Will Ferrell as Alex Trek analog Terry McTeer) with her dog since she was a child, and she has become a savant at trivia due to her fandom of the program.

After their mother running away from her elder care home causes the siblings to reunite, Jenny is wowed by her sister’s ability and posts a video online of Annie crushing a round of Can’t Stop The Quiz from the comfort of her home. Annie becomes an overnight Internet success… and the target of loan sharks who want the $80,000 owed to them by Annie and Jenny’s absent mother.

With her beloved pet Mr. Linguini kidnapped as collateral for the money, Annie is talked into trying out for the quiz show by Jenny. When Annie makes the cut to be on the show, she must go up against Ron Heacock (Jason Schwartzman) in his quest to become the winningest contestant ever.

TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS

+After a slow start (more on that shortly), the movie takes a turn in a truly hilarious sequence that lets SAwkwafina shine where Annie, as a complete sweat-soaked nervous wreck, tries out for Can’t Stop The Quiz. Jenny accidentally gives her too much in the way of some downers to relax her, then has to give her some uppers to get her sister in the game. The whole scene is the exact dividing line where it felt like the movie stopped TRYING to be funny and actually just started BEING funny. I need to find a way to add “The clouds above are going to die” when I am stressed with a task!

+The cast all over the place excels, with Schwartzman being a wonderfully smarmy third act villain, and Ferrell showing off some innocent charm as McTeer rather than tuning into his exasperated SNL iteration of Alex Trebek.

But the movie lives on the wings of the chemistry between Oh and Awakwafina, who just mesh tremendously on screen together. When I heard of the casting, I thought I’d have a hard time buying the two of them as siblings–especially with the seemingly inverted decision of Oh playing the crazy one and Awkwafina as the subdued sister–but they come together perfectly.

-The first act and the opening bit of the second just flat out aren’t that funny. For a while, the movie feels like a relic of a different era in terms of its humor. I felt like I was watching a somewhat sanitized 90’s comedy for a while before the movie really started to kick into gear.

Quiz Lady does eventually become funny and more enjoyable with the moment I mentioned above, but it feels like it takes more time than you would like for it to get there. I could see audiences tapping out before that happens.

-By the time you get to the end of Quiz Lady, you start to realize that we are never really getting a satisfactory conclusion to the story of Annie and Jenny’s mother. The impetus for the two getting back together is her disappearance, but we ultimately don’t ever see mom or get much in the way as to whether she is okay or not (Jenny does make a phone call that lets us know she is alive, but that’s it).

While it’s not necessary to the story, which is about Annie and Jenny, it might have been nice for mom to have gotten some kind of comeuppance for leaving her daughters in the lurch for her own debts. It does end up feeling like a missed opportunity from the flick for mom to not appear at all.

OVERALL

It takes a bit to really find its sense of humor, but luckily Oh and Awkwafina are able to buoy the film on their brilliant chemistry until the second act when the writing catches up with their performances. The secondary cast are game in this one, too. So while the total effort isn’t entirely even, it ends up being an enjoyable watch.

3.5 out of 5

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