Part of a New Golden Age of Comedy, ‘Quiz Lady’ Is Wicked Fun
Maybe the lockdown increased everyone’s desire for humor, but the third decade of the current century has brought forth a lot more funniness that is much more diverse and inclusive than what we had come to expect.
All of a sudden, it seems we’re living in a new golden age of comedy. Only a few years ago, it felt like there was a dearth of worthwhile comedy films — I remember going to my local AMC almost every week and barely laughing all season. I finally resorted to calling a few friends who are major movie critics and they offered some titles, but it was all obscure and fringe-y, independent releases and foreign films.
Maybe the lockdown increased everyone’s desire for humor, but the third decade of the current century has brought forth a lot more funniness. Further, where a lot of what came before was highly male-dominated — virtually everything seemed to star Ben Stiller or Adam Sandler playing against increasingly younger leading ladies — the new comedy is much more diverse and inclusive. There are a lot more women in central parts and a lot more ethnicities — and, thankfully, a low tolerance of heavy-handed political correctness.
In fact, one of the funniest jokes in “Quiz Lady” — don’t blink or you’ll miss it — is that after the title character’s video goes viral, one woke commentator observes that “hating the quiz lady is racist, but liking her is even more racist.” There’s one scene where an unseen truck driver deservedly chews out the characters for driving poorly. Sandra Oh’s character responds by calling him a racist, but then it turns out he’s Asian, just like the two protagonists.
Directed by Jessica Yu, “Quiz Lady” is the latest release from Gloria Sanchez Productions, a company co-founded by Will Ferrell for the purpose of producing female-centric comedies. It’s in the same spirit as the company’s 2021 release, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.” Like “Barb and Star,” “Quiz Lady” is essentially a female buddy movie; the major difference is that in the previous film, the two heroines are so close and have so much in common that it’s hard to believe they’re not sisters. In “Quiz Lady,” Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, as Anne Yum and Jenny Yum, are so different that it strains credulity at first that they’re supposed to be sisters.
The plot can be viewed as “Barb and Star” in reverse. Where Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are close friends who experience a rupture in the relationship and then get back together, Anne and Jenny are completely estranged at the start. It’s a foregone conclusion they’ll eventually bond over the course of the fast-moving 99-minute plot, but the question is exactly how, and that’s the whole point.
Both movies also have standout scenes where people not accustomed to doing drugs and getting high semi-accidentally go on very funny, substance-driven “trips.”
Briefly, “Quiz Lady” is about how two sisters, who can barely stand each other, are forced to reconsider their relationship over the course of dealing with a significant financial and criminal crisis. Given that one sister is nerdy and entirely buttoned down and one is flighty and irresponsible, it was a masterstroke of casting against type that Ms. Oh and Awkwafina are playing exactly the opposite roles that we’d expect.
As with “Barb and Star,” Mr. Ferrell is again credited as one of the producers, but here he also has an important supporting role. As in this past summer’s skyrocket success “Barbie,” he very memorably portrays a potential adversary for the protagonists who subsequently shows a lot more warmth and dimension than we expect. Holland Taylor and Jason Schwartzman also shine as gloriously detestable foils for the twin heroes.
It’s also to the credit of screenwriter Jen D’Angelo that there’s nothing in the plot that specifically dictates that the two center siblings have to be Asian or even women — and yet you can’t imagine anyone other than Ms. Oh and Awkwafina in the roles. Their unseen mother is established as a gambling addict who runs off to Macau as the film’s story starts, but, gambling, for better and usually worse, is a key component of many ethnic cultures.
Other characters, like the actor and rapper Jon “Dumbfoundead” Park as Ken, a mobbed-up bookie whose “front” is running a doggie daycare center, would seem equally and hysterically absurd in any culture.
“Quiz Lady” is consistently wickedly funny, with some mild scatalogical humor, but ultimately heartwarming. Along with “The Holdovers,” it’s one of the sweetest movies released so far this year.
That it has a memorable cameo role for the late Paul Reubens — allowing “Pee Wee Herman” to end his career on a triumphant note — is more icing on the cake.