/ 18 November 2023

Film is a quizzical look at siblings

Quiz Lady

When two sisters are forced to deal with their mother’s gambling debt, they enter a quiz show and find themselves patching up their relationship.

In Quiz Lady, Anne Yum (played by Asian-American actor, rapper and comedian Awkwafina) has been watching the show Can’t Stop the Quiz since she was about four years old. 

She and her sister Jenny Yum (Asian-American-Canadian actor Sandra Oh), grow up in a dysfunctional family, with a mother who is addicted to gambling and a father who abandons them. 

The sisters stick together through tough times, but as they grow up, they grow apart. 

Anne falls into herself and her responsibilities, while Jenny runs away from her family and seeks a lifestyle that prioritises her happiness. 

This creates resentment between the sisters. We watch them heal their relationship as the film progresses.

The sisters mending their relationship is the primary story which the film follows, however, two other themes are explored in it. 

One is having the courage to bet on yourself. Sometimes we might be complacent and let our talents lie dormant and our lives become stagnant. 

When an opportunity arises, we might fear taking the leap or gambling on ourselves. We need to be confident enough to believe in our abilities and intuitions. Never fear betting on yourself, the movie teaches us.

The third theme is a love letter to television as a form of escapism. Many people rely on entertainment to give them a break from the difficulties of their day-to-day lives. The women’s stories will resonate with many other people who grew up in unstable homes and uncomfortable situations. 

Television, books and radio are reliable means of escape. They open portals into other lives, other universes and other stories, which free us from our lives for however long they capture our attention. 

Anne escapes into the quiz show and subconsciously perceives the host as a father figure. 

She continues the tradition of watching Can’t Stop the Quiz into her adulthood as it’s security blanket for her. 

I believe many can relate to Anne’s relationship with Can’t Stop the Quiz.

This movie showcases the leading ensemble’s talents. 

Awkwafina leads as the severely introverted Anne. Her career has been impressive. People might know her from Ocean’s 8 and Jumanji: The Next Level, to name just  two of her films. 

She uses her naturally slouched posture to embody Anne’s fear of attention and preference for isolation. 

Awkwafina’s performance shows that you can be visible while playing an invisible character.

Many people know Oh as the ambitious cardiologist Dr Cristina Yang, who graced our screens for 10 seasons on Grey’s Anatomy. 

In Quiz Lady, she plays the polar opposite of Yang. As Anne’s older sister, Jenny balances Anne’s shyness by being extremely outgoing and free-spirited. 

Jenny has the personality of a 20-year-old, even though she’s almost 40. Oh transforms effortlessly into Jenny, so much so that one can let go of her as Yang.

Will Ferrell usually plays characters who are crude, loud and the centre of attention. His comedic style is usually quick, out-of-pocket and physical. 

In this movie, he plays quiz show host Terry McTeer. Terry is the father figure for Anne. It’s Terry who gives Anne her hero’s speech towards the end of the movie. This movie shows the gentler and softer side of Ferrell’s abilities as an actor.

Another aspect of the film that makes it worthwhile is the representation of Asian-Americans. 

This is an important step for Asian people across the board. Throughout the history of the film industry, Asian people have tended to be typecast because of stereotypes. 

There are predominantly Asian actors in this film, with a couple of supporting roles being given to white actors. This is an empowering move from the filmmakers. 

In the context of American films, Asian people are usually cast as nerds who excel in IT and maths. This stereotype has left no space for people to perceive Asian people as diverse individuals who aren’t necessarily all good at IT and maths.

In the film industry, black people and Asian people have faced similar histories of exclusion and discrimination. Movies that highlight a minority group are for all minority groups. 

Sharing these stories leaves space for others to tell their stories. We, as audience members, must observe, learn and support them.

There are many important lessons in the movie’s one hour, 39 minute running time. 

It’s for the families who’ve experienced trauma, the younger siblings who ended up carrying the responsibilities and siblings who have tried to protect their younger siblings. 

If you have the chance, watch the movie on Disney+.

And tell your siblings you love them.