Awkwafina and Sandra Oh both try make it to the final round.
The new made-for-Hulu comedy “Quiz Lady” has its qualities and difficulties, ones we’ve seen done before and probably will see again. It’s all in the execution.
I’ve seen movies about druggie grandmas and her miserable driver in “Tammy” or moms and daughters in dangerous territories in “Snatched” or Jennifer Lawrence trying to help a young man reach adulthood in “No Hard Feelings,” and none of them we’re as funny as they thought they were. “Quiz Lady” has better qualities than those films, thanks to the leads of Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, but it also has to deal with cynicism and behaviors within the screenplay.
Awkwafina plays a loner and moper named Anne Yum, who is smart enough to compete on her all-time favorite game show Can’t Stop the Quiz,” hosted by Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell), if only she wasn’t camera shy. Her train wreck of an older sister Jenny (Oh) comes back into her life, after many failed attempts to find her true calling. They both come from awful parents, which is why Anne considers Terry to be a father figure and why Jenny drops out of school and leaves home.
The reason they reunite is because their gambling addict mother has left her retirement home with her new boyfriend. And that wasn’t enough, she owes money to the loan shark Ken (Jon “Dumbfoundead” Park), who kidnaps Anne/Jenny’s dog as insurance. It’s Jenny’s dog, whom she asks Anne to watch over her long absence, but that’s beside the point.
Jenny films her sister giving out the right answers while watching the show, and uploads it on the internet. Of course, it has to peeve her off, but it does earn her an audition to be on the show. It gets annoying when this plan to pay off the loan shark resorts to Jenny kidnapping Anne, and her trying to walk away. But, at least, there are comical aspects that lubes them up, some of them regard asian stereotypes and some of them have to sneak in drugs. What wouldn’t be a raunchy comedy without stereotypes and drugs?
And speaking of which, a funnier and more affectionate film in the genre is “Joy Ride,” which most of you missed out last summer in theaters. I hope you, at least, watched it online, because it took risks in its comedy and delivered the sincerity in its character development.
Among the supporting cast, Jason Schwartzmann plays the 3rd longest running champion Ron Heacock, who seeks to overshadow Terry by being the next Can’t Stop the Quiz host. Holland Taylor exhaustingly plays Francine, Anne’s nagging neighbor, who is a big fan of Alan Cumming, up to the point of thinking the recently departed Paul Reubens is him. And Tony Hale brings on the laughs as a Ben Franklin hotel manager, who likes to convince his guests he is the real Ben Franklin.
“Quiz Lady” has some laughs and some touching moments, but somehow, I didn’t completely see it in that notion. I mostly saw antics and conflicts, which seem to be mimicking “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but without the planes or trains. Awkwafina and Oh both have chemistry that can develop over time, and they do solid work with their characters. I’ll take them over Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon in “Tammy” or Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in “Snatched.” I know they weren’t siblings, but the adage still applies.
Time can change people, as demonstrated successfully in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers.” That film is an independent film, which I hope people will see as it expands to more theaters. “Quiz Lady” is a commercial film on Hulu, so it has to act like one. And it can hit and miss you.
Streaming on Hulu This Friday
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.