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"Quiz Lady" 4K Review

 So much of what is meant to be entertainment these days is so lackluster, formulaic, or just plain bad that it's more than a pleasant surprise when you get something unexpectedly good in spite of how it's being sold. Recently it was the weird "queer Fight Club" comedy with an all-time worst title, Bottoms, and now it's the Hulu Original Quiz Lady, which turned out to not only be better than expected, it was much better than it needed to be.

Awkwafina stars as Anne, a drab 30-something accountant who lives alone with her old dog, Mr. Linguini,  next door to a crabby old woman, Francine (Holland Taylor), who's always hectoring her for packages being left in front of her duplex door. The sole joy in Anne's life is a game show called Can't Stop The Quiz, a pseudo-Jeopardy type thing hosted by kindly Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell) that airs live and was her solace as a child of a broken home.

One day the nursing home caring for her mother calls to inform her that her mother was gone. Not dead, gone, as in took off with her boyfriend for Macau. Fed up with her rules-breaking, the home isn't going to let her come back and tells Anne to take mom's stuff with her. While handling this, her estranged older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) shows up at the nursing home and when it's realized she's been living in her car, Anne reluctantly allows her to stay with her. Jenny was always flighty and self-centered, so they're not close.

 One night, Jenny secretly tapes Anne playing along with Can't Stop The Quiz, capturing her answering everything faster than the current obnoxious champion, Ron (Jason Schwartzman), and posts it online causing her to become an overnight viral sensation, the "Quiz Lady." (Roll credits!) Unfortunately, the attention also puts Anne on the radar of mom's loan shark, Ken (Jon "Dumbfoundead" Park), who is owed $80,000 and he dognaps Mr. Linguini as collateral.

Since they don't have the money, Jenny suggests they road trip to Can't Stop The Quiz's open auditions in Philadelphia where all Anne needs to do is overcome her crippling shyness to win the game and earn the cash to ransom her dog. Road trip hijinks ensue with the odd couple sisters learning about each other and their secrets and all that heartwarming stuff. Any guesses as to how the game show goes?

 If the broad outline of the plot sounds a bit formulaic and predictable, it's because it's meant to be. By not wasting much effort on the skeleton of the plot, screenwriter Jen D'Angelo (Hocus Pocus 2, Totally Killer) goes berserk with so many little details & throwaway bits that a second viewing seems necessary to catch them all. Things like Anne's accounting employer being called "CPYay!", the headlines about her being a viral sensation and why not liking her is racist, but liking her may be more racist, and a preposterously extended runner involving a Ben Franklin-themed B&B and its employees. The only times the story lags is when it pulls over to hit the obligatory story beats of this genre, but those are brief.

Awkwafina seems to annoy a lot of people with her usual persona (I'm fine with her), but she's a much more restrained, repressed character here which leaves Oh as the surprise to those who only know her from Grey's Anatomy or Killing Eve as her Jenny is a brash hustler who refuses to dress or act her age. (Also, if you saw her hilarious turn as Tischy on this SNL sketch, you know she can do bonkers comedy.) Ferrell is also good channeling Alex Trebeck and Mr. Rogers for McTeer, deepening what initially seems to be a caricatured performance in a touching scene where he soothes Anne while discussing what various bowties represent to him.

 The only thing preventing a recommendation of Quiz Lady as a "fun for the family romp" is the preponderance of F-bombs which give it its R-rating. As a salty talker myself, it wasn't offensive, but it was unnecessary. Just be aware if you're sensitive to bad words. Otherwise, Quiz Lady is a sweet and unexpectedly funny film which doesn't get gross to deliver big laughs. Cherkitert!

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on Hulu.


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