Directed by Jessica Yu | Written by Jen D’Angelo | 99 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Disney +
Isn’t it odd how few *pure* comedies we see these days? It’s a genre that doesn’t really exist anymore as a box office force. Sure, we get comedy horrors, comedy fantasies, comedy romances, even comedy superhero movies, but just a story about people, a movie whose intent is to make you laugh?
Awkwafina and Sandra Oh are Anne and Jenny Yum, estranged sisters. They couldn’t be more different — Anne is introverted and routine-oriented. Every day she has to watch her Quiz show, a fluffier version of Jeopardy, complete with an Alex Trebek-like host, played with a lot of charm by Will Ferrell who, of course, impersonated Trebek on Saturday Night Live. Jenny, on the other hand, is a wild card, living out of her car and trying to manifest the life she wants without a lot of success. Somehow she stumbles on the idea of being a life coach, and decides Anne will be her first client.
They’ve got problems, these two, beyond their personality conflicts. Their mother has fled her seniors home with her boyfriend to Macao, leaving behind serious gambling debts, and the gangster who wants Anne to pony up the money kidnaps her pug, Mr Linguini. But Jenny’s got a plan: Anne’s got to go on the Quiz show and win a big chunk of change. In her way is multiple winner Ron (Jason Schwartzman), an orange-tanned man with glowing teeth.
This is all deeply silly, but in the right kind of way. Sure, it’s structurally more than a little predictable, and not all the jokes land, but like the best comedies it throws a lot at the wall to see what sticks. The filmmakers aren’t satisfied with a scene going by without something to potentially laugh at, whether it’s an A+ drug trip scene with a whole lot of visual humour, a Ben Franklin-themed hotel that Jenny takes exception to, or a character who’s convinced Paul Reubens — RIP Paul, here in his final appearance — is, in fact, Alan Cumming. They don’t even really look alike, but it’s a terrific gag.
The two leads easily paper over the conventional beats in the script. Awkwafina’s proven her versatility time and again, she’s always watchable and it’s not a surprise her Anne is entirely fleshed out. I was concerned at first that, in comparison, Sandra Oh’s Jenny would be a cartoon, the outrageous one to make Anne the straight man, but over the course of the film Oh delivers a lot of nuance and vulnerability — Jenny’s a character we’ve never seen from Oh before, but it’s the two together that make this work. In the end they deliver a lot of feeling, not just the laughs.
If these performers made a series of comedies, like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, I’d line up to see all of them. One other note: while there’s a lot to enjoy about this year’s box office smash, Barbie, Ferrell is even better here.