Written and directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, Queenpins is a comedy starring Kristen Bell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Vince Vaughn. Inspired by real-life events taking place in 2012, the story follows a pair of friends, bored housewife Connie (Bell) and aspiring influencer Jojo (Howell-Baptiste), who steals fake coupons and sells them online, scamming millions of dollars from multinational corporations. When loss prevention officer Ken (Paul Walter Hauser) begins to suspect a fake coupon ‘ring’ in circulation, he takes it upon himself to bring the criminals to justice.
When audiences first meet Connie and Jojo, they look like two women who have fallen on tough times. Former Olympian Connie is all perkiness and optimism on the outside, but her fertility issues have not only caused friction with her constantly absent husband Rick (Joel McHale) but see her compensating her loss with overindulgence in coupons. Her neighbour and best friend Jojo is equally passionate about couponing, although she is making more of an effort to rise from the ashes through her money-saving videos and mobile make-up business. When Connie gets a compensatory coupon through the post after complaining about some newly bought cereal, she and Jojo realise that their passion for couponing can be their meal ticket.
Despite their ‘Robin Hood’ objectives to spread their coupon saving to others, the ladies’ super-saver skills are quickly surpassed by their naivety and greed. Gaudet and Pullapilly primarily focus on the protagonists’ journey into crime and therefore doesn’t take the time for audiences to resonate with them past their materialistic goals, so elements such as Jojo’s rapport with postman Earl (Dayo Okeniyi) and Connie’s desire for a baby are left in the background. Even the latter’s marriage relationship with Rick is underexplored, leaving the couple with a somewhat biased character arc and him as the de facto ‘asshole’ of the story. The plot paints these women as street-wise criminals but there are lapsing moments of intelligence, driven by the tech-savvy Tina (Bebe Rexha), which make audiences wonder whether Jojo and Connie are truly smart or just incredibly lucky. With a startling lack of empathy and incredulity from the protagonists (especially when it comes to their money), the crime factor in Queenpins isn’t as thrilling as anticipated.
However, the development of the narrative is nicely paced so audiences remain with the protagonists throughout their journey. There is also a notable shift in tone during the second half, making it especially watchable. This is due to the appearance of US Postal Inspector Agent Flanagan (Vaughan), whose smart yet deadpan demeanour brings a calming presence as he meticulously works through this scandal. His partnership with Ken also allows Hauser to elevate the film with a persistent yet quietly entertaining need for ‘justice’.
Overall, Queenpins appears as a mad-cap caper inspired by an unlikely true story. However, the film makes it too easy to lack faith in its protagonists’ street smarts, causing it to lapse in tone and consistency.
Queenpins is out in US cinemas on Friday 10 September, UK release TBC.
Director: Aron Gaudet, Gita Pullapilly
Stars: Kristen Bell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Vince Vaughn, Paul Walter Hauser, Joel McHale, Dayo Okeniyi
Runtime: 110 minutes