Synopsis – Two suburban women create a $40 million coupon scam.
My Take – With all the variety of colored schemed crimes going on around the world, I guess it’s not surprising to know that coupon fraud is also a real thing.
A particularly implausible episode which is now getting a fictionalized feature treatment from husband-wife writers-directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, who in search for a human-interest type piece for their next film ended up discovering the real-life story of Amiko Fountain, Marilyn Johnson, and Robin Ramirez, three Arizona women who founded a shopper site through which they earned millions by selling fake coupons online.
Acting as a comedic version of Hustlers (2019), here, filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly pretty much chose to tell their story in a grounded way, but sprinkled with enough over-the-top moments and social commentary the sub-genre is usually known for. Luckily for the film, it mostly works.
Sure, it has some shortcomings and is hardly the funniest film of the year, yet still manages to be a well-paced crime comedy about a pair of suburban women who are in over their heads and are looking for a way out of their middle-class banality.
It also helps that Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste make for quite charming leads, especially when they take us into the dark side of extreme couponing, making anyone who has ever used a coupon laugh out loud.
The story follows Connie Kaminski (Kristen Bell) and JoJo Johnson (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who meet and bond over their love of extreme couponing. Connie is a former two time winning Olympic speed walking champion who is trapped in a loveless marriage with her IRS auditor husband, Rick (Joel McHale), which fell apart after they went through a lengthy and expensive IVF treatment that resulted in a pregnancy and a miscarriage. Now he spends most of his time on the road, by design, while she fills what would’ve been the nursery with her booty from her compulsive coupon clipping exploits.
While JoJo, a would-be entrepreneur, was forced to move in with her mom (Greta Oglesby) after she became the victim of identity theft, and now runs a failing YouTube channel devoted to coupon strategies, along with her also failing line of African-American cosmetics called Back in Black. However things change for the two, when after eating a few handfuls of stale Wheaties, Connie writes to the company and receives a coupon for a free box in return.
Realizing that if they could get a lot of high-value coupons, they could sell them to savers across the country, they tie up with a desperate couple in a print shop in Mexico to steal the unused coupons. Unexpectedly what started as a hobby quickly becomes a multi-million dollar operation that ends up catching the attention of loss prevention officer Ken (Paul Walter Hauser) and postal inspector Simon (Vince Vaughn), who are determined to catch the sales-minded criminals.
Though the film’s marketing seem to bill it as a raunchy comedy it’s undoubtedly selling the film short because though it certainly has its fair share of comedic beats, but at its core is more of a buddy comedy inside crime drama. Unlike other buddy films, this one does not follow the overplayed trope of two best friends who seem inseparable face a conflict, they fight, then breakup, only to come back together in the end. In this case, Connie and JoJo never fall apart even when things get their darkest, these two laugh, cry, and support each other through it all. It is refreshing to see, especially with two female protagonists.
It also delivers more than enough laughs. What’s most hilarious about Connie and JoJo is how incredibly inept they are. At first, they first don’t realize just how popular selling freebie coupons will be. Then due to their naiveté they have little idea how to deal with the influx of cash, forcing them to enter into situations with a series of shady characters.
In one scene, we see them being taken to a secret location by their new partner, hacking expert Tempe (Bebe Rexha). As they sit blindfolded in the backseat of her car, they start yammering on about how it’s true what they say, your senses really are heightened when you’re blindfolded. In another scene, believing their income to be dirty money, they start unloading millions by buying Lamborghinis, private jets and a bunch of automatic weapons.
Clocking in at 110 minutes the film may be a tad too long, and attempts to add thematic depth that doesn’t land, but filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly provide a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours and keeps you enamored with watching the interactions between the characters and waiting to see how it would unfold.
Of course, the film’s biggest strength is the cast. Kristen Bell makes for a solid lead, once again managing to strike the right balance between anchoring a project’s sizable emotional beats and still lending levity where necessary. Funny and charming, as well as mysterious and vulnerable, Kirby Howell-Baptiste makes sure that the film never flounders. Surprising, considering it is the actress’s first lead role in a feature film. The real life friendship between Bell and Howell-Baptiste lends itself to the great onscreen chemistry their characters have. The shared scenes standout as some of the best moments in the film overall. Seeing Connie and JoJo fight the powers that be together while stumbling their way to success is just plain fun to watch.
Vince Vaughn continues to be the master of smarm as charm, and though he tones it down for this film, it’s still there and funny moments still come. Paul Walter Hauser continues his excellent roll of performances, proving once again that he is seriously talented and not to mention hilarious. In supporting turns, Joel McHale, Bebe Rexha, Dayo Okeniyi and Greta Oglesby are also good. On the whole, ‘Queenpins’ is an enjoyable crime comedy that manages to keep you engaged throughout.
Rated – R
Run Time – 110 minutes