What is…“Quiz Lady?” an unquestionably fun film
If your dog was kidnapped by your mother’s very humane loan sharks, how do you think you’d get the money to pay them back?
“Quiz Lady,” directed by Jessica Yu, follows Anne Yum, an office worker (Awkwafina) who (slightly obsessively) watches the TV quiz show “Can’t Stop the Quiz,” and her fragmented relationship with her older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh), a “struggling” actress. After a loan shark kidnaps Anne’s beloved dog to force her to pay their mother’s debt, Anne decides to go on “Can’t Stop the Quiz” (where Will Ferrell essentially plays Alex Trebek) to earn the money to save her pet.
For a movie about a woman who takes on a loan shark gang, goes on national TV and witnesses a bar fight, “Quiz Lady” feels oddly contained. Most of the movie’s focus is on the relationship between the sisters and their respective character journeys rather than the external drama, and everything that happens serves to build their relationship or uncover new traits about them. Even the format of the quiz show itself is about their relationship, forcing Anne to rely on her previously unreliable older sister and relive their shared memories. It makes for an effective and really sweet story.
Most of the gags throughout the story are funny as well, especially the Ben Franklin-themed hotel scenes. As someone from the Philadelphia area, I can confirm we are obsessed with the man (my school had a fourth grader in a ratty dishwasher-gray wig star in a historically inaccurate movie I long to forget). The loan shark gang, Francine the neighbor and any scene with the dog were stellar. Oh, and Awkwafina also played off each other really well with some great comedic chemistry. The movie manages to keep a light tone very well while managing to pack an emotional punch with the sisters’ relationship, especially at the end.
Since the movie is named “Quiz Lady,” I’d like to talk about the quiz show. While I haven’t seen every single episode of “Jeopardy,” I love a good trivia show. When I spent a summer with my grandmother, we spent many weekday nights trying to guess the answers before the contestants (a rarity). This movie gets not only the format and thrills of quiz games right but gets the reason people love them. It’s not about the questions or the smarminess you get when you answer a question correctly, it’s about loving learning, the community and the people you play with. When Anne plays the quiz show by herself, she has fun, but when she plays with other people, with her sister, it’s a transformative experience.
Because of that, I wish the quiz game had focused more on the third contestant on the show, who leaves without making much of an impression, or on how Anne utilized all the knowledge that she learned throughout “Can’t Stop the Quiz.” Most of her knowledge seemed to come from rote memorization, and she never utilized it outside of the quiz show. There were so many opportunities for Anne to utilize it — a fun chase scene, a useful tidbit to break the dog out of the gang’s clutches or anything that showed that she used her wealth of knowledge or thought about it outside of being able to recite from it. The character’s ending made up for a lot of that, but still, missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity was Jenny’s character, who, throughout the movie seemed really talented in helping people change their lives, giving advice and being personable. I was almost certain that she’d become a host on “Can’t Stop the Quiz” or manager of the loan shark gang, but that never went anywhere beyond her helping her sister.
Overall, if you’re looking for a fun movie that you don’t need too much brain power to analyze, “Quiz Lady” is it. It’s not the deepest movie, but it’s a sweet movie about two estranged sisters coming together on a really funny quiz show.