If you make the stakes in a film getting your dog back, I’m in. The love of a pet is about as relatable a thing as there is for me, so you start out at an advantage. Now, if your movie is also a comedic showcase for two talented actresses, that’s almost icing on the cake. So, Quiz Lady has a lot going in its favor. While it’s ultimately somewhat disposable entertainment, it’s the sort of comedy that goes down easy, wants to make you smile, and does a damn good job of it, too.
Quiz Lady doesn’t try to do too much, and in its simple desire to entertain, manages to be largely effective. The premise will speak to anyone who spent many a night watching Jeopardy! or another show of its ilk. Plus, the actresses on display are getting to exercise new muscles, which is always a delight to see. Throw in some fun big names in smaller roles, and it’s very hard not to be charmed by this flick.
Anne (Awkwafina) has a strained relationship with her family. Her mother is a degenerate gambler, while her estranged sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) is a mess. The only constant in Anne’s life is her dog, Mr. Linguini, as well as her favorite game show. Whenever she sees the host (Will Ferrell) come on the screen, she’s okay for a bit. Plus, she knows the answers, every single time. When her mother runs away from her nursing home, it brings Jenny back into her life. Then, they realize that their mother had some major gambling debts, which result in the dog being kidnapped. Anne has no idea what to do, but Jenny has a wild idea.
Her plan? To have her sister go on the show and win, getting the ransom money. Of course, that means a hijinks filled roadtrip, for starters. Moreover, if she even qualifies for the show, she’ll be going up against a returning champion (Jason Schwartzman) looking to set the consecutive wins record. It’s not a huge surprise what ends up happening, but watching it happen is actually a lot of fun.
Awkwafina and Sandra Oh get to do a bit of role reversal here, clearly relishing the opportunities. The former mostly plays it straight, adding in some deadpan humor, while the latter gets to go big and broad. It works, too, as they’re each having a blast playing against type. Their chemistry is strong as well, making for believable siblings, issues and all. Will Ferrell is surprisingly low-key as the genial host, while Jason Schwartzman is intentionally grating as the contestant with an eye on taking over the show one day. Supporting players here include Tony Hale and Holland Taylor in small but amusing roles, plus many more.
Director Jessica Yu and writer Jen D’Angelo are always having fun here. When they pause the laughs for a few actual tender moments, they land, but the focus is always on the comedy. D’Angelo and Yu hook you quickly with the quirk of the game show aspect, as well as the mission being to save Mr. Linguini. Throw in a really hilarious ending (mimicking a true life style flick) and a lot of what they do here works.
Quiz Lady is a breezy comedy, to be sure. It won’t surprise you, but it will entertain you, which is clearly the intention. It goes big at times, but the stakes are grounded and relatable, for the most part. It all adds up to something meant to make you happy. As an enjoyable little comedy, the film is a winner, to be sure.