Written and Directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly.
Starring Kristen Bell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Paul Walter Hauser, Vince Vaughn, Joel McHale, Bebe Rexha, Dayo Okeniyi, Nick Cassavetes, Stephen Root, Marc Evan Jackson, Jack McBrayer, Garrett Wareing, Eduardo Franco, Lidia Porto, Michael Masini, Leonard Robinson, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, and Annie Mumolo.
Bored and frustrated suburban homemaker Connie and her best pal JoJo, a vlogger with dreams, turn a hobby into a multi-million-dollar counterfeit coupon caper. After firing off a letter to the conglomerate behind a box of cereal gone stale, and receiving an apology along with dozens of freebies, the duo hatch an illegal coupon club scheme that scams millions from mega-corporations and delivers deals to legions of fellow coupon clippers. On the trail to total coupon dominance, a hapless Loss Prevention Officer from the local supermarket chain joins forces with a determined U.S. Postal Inspector in hot pursuit of these newly-minted “Queenpins” of pink collar crime.
For as outlandishly absurd as building an illegal enterprise through a charitable exercise of selling coupons sounds, writers and directors of Queenpins Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly have opted for a grounded approach to this real-life story. That’s not to say that there aren’t a fair share of ridiculous elements and outrageous sequences, but these filmmakers are definitely interested in how and why such a successful business endeavor came to fruition. Just as everyone has probably used the occasional coupon in their life, some people ridicule those who take saving a dollar here and there into a full-blown hobby where the rewards don’t seem to be worth the necessary dedication.
Supermarket cashiers groan whenever Connie Kaminski (Kristen Bell, playing the taken-for-granted suburban housewife with wide-eyed optimism to burn) pulls out coupons at the cash register. Astonishingly, she can decrease a checkout price of $130+ to around $17, with the assistance of roughly 100 different coupons. It’s easy to see why this would annoy anyone working minimum wage, or in other words, not getting paid nearly enough to deal with that kind of headache. It also shows how such a structure turns working-class individuals against each other.
I don’t think anyone would argue against the notion that saving money is good, but again, as we get a look into the effort, Connie puts forth into amassing that many coupons, it does become a question of if it’s even worth it. In her situation, it’s easy to find empathy. She’s been trying to have a baby with her offputting, negligent, and rude IRS husband Rick (Joel McHale, getting the jerky point of his character across with limited screen time) to no avail, and lately finds herself alone and lonely as he decides to travel three weeks a month for work. When he is home, he criticizes her hoarding of coupons, failing to realize that such an interest has been born out of his own uncaring, self-centered, and distant behavior as a husband. Connie is looking for a burst of serotonin some more, and as it turns out, the high of a big saving can accomplish such a thing. That also doesn’t matter to him; he berates her and barks at her to get a real job.
That sense of fulfillment also expands beyond marital troubles, as Connie is also actually an Olympic medalist for computing in race walking (one funny joke points out the shock that, yes, that is actually a real competition), but much like no one recognizes an Oscar winner for short films, most Olympic athletes go unnoticed. Life certainly has had a way of beating the joy out of Connie, so it’s not exactly hard to get in her corner when she decides to bend the rules for not just savings but now satisfaction and profit.
Connie decides to enlist the help of her neighboring best friend, JoJo Johnson (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who already has experience collaborating on-screen with Kristen Bell), a YouTube V-logger with ambitions of her own roadblocked by the obstacle of having her identity stolen years prior, subsequently saddled with bad credit as a result of law enforcement not treating the situation with legitimacy or believing her. Together, they routinely drive across the border to Mexico, where they partner up with a struggling local couple that handoff any extra produced coupons to Connie and JoJo in exchange for a small sum of the inevitable profits. From there, they set up a basic website (one that looks like it’s from the early days of the Internet rather than the modern-day setting of the story) where they can sell and fulfill coupon orders through shipment. Everyone is saving money with no harm or foul.
Although, technically, it is stealing and affecting the bottom line of quite a few major corporations. However, most bothered by the rapid increase in coupon activity is Loss Prevention Officer Ken Miller (the always hilarious Paul Walter Hauser). Don’t be fooled by the label, as Ken Miller is something of an ignored and unimportant dope that, in his quest to find a semblance of relevancy, takes his work overly seriously (at one point, he staunchly disallows an elderly woman from trying to unknowingly use a fraudulent coupon to save a little bit of cash). Essentially, he’s the Paul Blart of coupon policing, which couldn’t be a role anymore inside the tremendously funny talents of Paul Walter Hauser. More intriguingly, Ken is just as much a loner and empty inside as Connie, coming home after a day’s work to unwind alone with some AEW (appropriate product placement given Paul Walter Hauser’s openness regarding being a proud fan of professional wrestling).
As Ken tries to take the story to the FBI and make some headlines, it’s no surprise that no one really cares. His evidence gets handed off to someone on the lowest rung of the ladder of the Washington branch for the FBI, which brings in U.S. Postal Inspector Simon Kilmurry (Vince Vaughn, a terrifically compatible comedic match for Paul Walter Hauser), an agent idiosyncratically obsessed with the inner workings and importance of mail, specifically historical letters. Mismatched and unwilling to work with Ken, the pair develops an amusingly sweet bond without positioning them as clearcut villains.
Meanwhile, Connie and JoJo’s shady unofficial enterprise takes off (in an underdeveloped move, they contact the woman that destroyed JoJo’s future for advice on website security measures and cleaning dirty money, in a sequence that stretches credibility to give a contrived explanation as to how these upstart criminals still don’t have much of an idea of what they are doing), but despite the chemistry between Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, the rags to riches and spending somewhat falls flat. I’m sure the numerous ways they spent money actually happened, but barring something involving semen, most of the ideas and observations are familiar and could have benefited from a little more playfulness.
That’s one way of saying Queenpins assuredly brought intriguing thoughts regarding family, friendship, and work to the table but forgot to bring some fun. Outside of the antics between Ken and Simon (and even between them, there’s the occasional dud like a pointless and lame poop joke that embarrassingly goes on for too long), it’s a movie where the message is fairly obvious as all the characters are introduced that begins to drag until pressure is coming down on the couponers. Opening with Connie and closing with Ken suggests that all these people are similar, just trying to get by while obtaining a sense of appreciation and that the real enemy is something much larger and vicious. It’s another smart idea in a film that could use more style, a more distinct vision, and explore its characters more (especially Connie and JoJo, beyond making and spending money). As much as I hate saying it, the real stars and reason to watch Queenpins are Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn, salvaging a frustratingly executed but otherwise fascinating story of real-life inspired crime.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com