The concept behind Jessica Yu’s “Quiz Lady” looks like the ideal formula for a ridiculous, slapstick comedy: two estranged sisters, the insane Jenny (Sandra Oh) and the stiff Anne (Awkwafina), decide to on a cross-country road trip to pay off their mother’s gambling debt.
And there are several scenes in the movie that live up to that ridiculously funny notion, such when Anne trips over Jenny’s medications while attempting to answer questions on a quiz while Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” is playing.
However, Yu was aware that the plot was not limited to those belly-laugh inducing moments. There are heartfelt moments exploring the sisters’ friendship throughout the movie.
The most poignant of which occurs at the movie’s conclusion. The two sisters publicly declare their love for one another after banding together to participate in the charades portion of a quiz show presented by Will Ferrell’s character, which is similar to Alex Trebek.
You mentioned that the fact that this film is about two sisters—and Asian American sisters at that—drew you in. What elements of the tale did you wish to add?
Asian American sisters are especially uncommon to find in comedy with sisters. These sisters in particular, I believe, felt like outsiders not only because they were Asian Americans in their neighbourhood but also because they were strangers even to their own family.
We could go into great detail about their experiences, in my opinion, since their father is a second-generation Korean American and their mother is a first-generation Chinese American.
In addition, I had the impression that spending time with your sister instantly transported you back to middle school. You can’t exactly act like a fully grown adult in front of your sister. We could be rather detailed with it, in my opinion.
Many Asian American characters are parodies of clichés; examples are the criminals who have spent all of their money on taking care of puppies and the mother who is hooked to gambling. What discussions over representation existed before the movie started?
In our family, there have been some gamblers. There is some fabricated family legend associated with that. However, a large portion of it was subversion—an attempt to create ideals for what an Asian tong should look like in the modern day.
What would we anticipate? I believe a large part of it was about defying expectations and not going for the anticipated turn, followed by attempting to figure out how to have an entertaining revelation.
Awkwafina was very perceptive about it. What have we previously witnessed? What can we alter to improve? What seems genuine about the world we’ve made?
On the first day of production, you shot the last sequences of the movie. Given that you have to balance humour with emotional appeal across the entire film, how did that contribute to setting the tone for the remainder of the production?
The reason this is such a great question is that I was somewhat anxious about filming the last sequence on the first day. Generally, you attempt to stay away from it at all costs. We were able to film on the first day because we had essentially a year to prepare and establish those connections.
Additionally, because Awkwafina and Sandra Oh were complete pros who had faith in myself, our crew, and each other, they just said, “Okay, if that’s what we have to do, we’ll go for it.”
It was a poignant sequence that served as a reminder of our goals, which is why it was excellent. We say to ourselves on the first day, “This is where we’re going.”
In the editing room, it’s quite lovely to see how well it complemented the remainder of the trip. The secret to being able to adjust and push the humour in the relationship is to maintain its groundedness.
Lastly, I had a question regarding Paul Reubens’ late-night appearance. How did you manage to get him into the movie, and who came up with the idea?
Jen D’Angelo came up with a brilliant idea: what if Francine is genuinely enamoured with her apartment’s celebrity doppelgänger instead of the actual star?
Then Paul Reubens and Alan Cumming made the ideal combination. Would Paul Reubens want to play along was the big question. He plays a pretty humorous part, but he also gets confused for someone else in it.
We were working on the script at Sandra’s place when she abruptly said, “I got Paul on the phone.” He answered yes when she asked.
Everyone’s mood improved as soon as he arrived on site. They announce that Pee-wee has arrived.
And he was genuinely thrilled to join in on our reindeer activities and come play. He made a great deal of people happy, including ourselves.