Directed By Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly
Starring – Kristen Bell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Vince Vaughn
The Plot – An outrageous comedy about a bored and frustrated suburban homemaker, Connie (Bell) and her best pal JoJo (Howell-Baptiste), a vlogger with dreams, who 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 (Paul Walter Hauser) from the local supermarket chain joins forces with a determined U.S. Postal Inspector (Vaughn) in hot pursuit of these newly-minted “Queenpins” of pink collar crime.
Rated R for adult language throughout
– Fascinating idea. I’ve always believed that the best stories for film stem from the historical trials and tribulations of real life, and because of such “Queenpins” brings with it a gripping hook that at the very least lures its audience into the unraveling of another American crime story. Considering coupons are such a cultural aspect of our everyday routines, it’s interesting to see the overlooked value of their appeal when fleshed out by those taking advantage of its misunderstood value. On top of this, the metaphorical stance of the coupons themselves in the film offering a stark unappreciation to those of the two main protagonists is one that is subtly conveyed, but monumentally appreciated in fleshing out their respective arc’s, allowing us the audience to coherently interpret the awakening of sorts that the perks of the paper have granted for the confidence of the characters, accordingly.
– Energetic leads. There are two comedic duo’s at the forefront of this rags to riches narrative, with each receiving ample screen time to match and prolong the momentum that is capably balanced, continuously. For Vaughn and Hauser, it’s a good cop/bad cop routine that affords the duo no shortage of awkward and self-deprecating banter between their respective authority forces, with each moving in opposite directions, the further the case unfolds for the ambiguous ladies they’re chasing. Hauser is once again perfection as another bumbling doofus of sorts, but not one who sacrifices charisma in the abundance of dry deliveries he unloads as punchlines. Vaughn is minimally used for only half of the run time, but effective none the less as a no-nonsense postal inspector forced to endure being the straight man to Hauser’s shenanigans. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the impeccable chemistry between Bell and Howell-Baptiste, which is articulated effortlessly in the believable dynamic each of them exudes in their best friend interaction. This is the second film they’ve co-starred together in, after 2016’s “The Good Place”, and it’s clear that the girls share a nourishing bond and simulatenous energy for one another that displays the value each of them see in one another throughout.
– Presentational identity. While much of the film is relegated to the causes and effects of a minimal budget at its disposal, the combination of boisterously infectious musical cues and razor sharp editing gave way to a visual spectrum that elicited palpable personality for its tonal consistency. Musical composer Siddhartha Khosla prescribes a bountiful amount of depth and dexterity to the progressions of her compositions, which keep them from ever feeling redundant or stock for cinematic rendering. As for the pasting of scenes and sequences, there’s a consistency to the pacing of the film that was most appreciated for me during moments of dialogue-heavy exposition to get the conflict in motion. Because of such, I was never truly bored with “Queenpins”, nor did I feel there were scenes that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor, due to a lack of importance to what takes shape.
– Exaggerated liberties. Without question, The most compromising sentence to any true crime narrative is “Based on a true story”, mainly because the word based alludes to the creative freedom that its producers and screenwriters use as a caveat to manipulate the audience. Such is the case for “Queenpins” too, as not only is the amount of money in the film ballooned to an obviously attention-seeking amount that the real life story didn’t even come close to, but also the consequences for the perpetrators are shrunken for the convenience of a happy ending. On top of all of this, there’s no on-screen text or real life photographs of the duo in question to finish out the storytelling. Typically in true story fashion, you’ll get a summarized statement that alludes to the effect of their lasting impact, or where they are now, but the complete absence of these aspects in the finale of the film offers more than a concerning eyebrow raise at the legitimacy of its intentions, making this the latest in a notebook of movies that shamefully rob real life figures of the essence of their lasting legacies.
– Discount humor. I’m not embellishing slightly when I say I didn’t laugh more than once throughout the experience with this film. Part of the problem is definitely the material itself, feeling literally gift-wrapped for middle aged women who share a body language for what their lives entail day after day. But the other half is that the material itself doesn’t seem fit for the benefits of an R-rating, especially considering there’s so little language or ensuing taboo along the way to boost its appeal. I can’t imagine for the life of me why this wasn’t simply given a PG-13, especially considering it limits the lure of its audience when underaged members want to check it out, but can’t because of such limitations. Because Gaudet and Pillapully attack this narrative with a consistently comic rendering, it undercuts the tension and stakes constantly, in favor of a dry well of sight and bodily gags so weak in execution that it makes scenes of interaction a chore to get through.
– Unlikeable characters. The charms and wit of Bell might appeal to audiences enough, but the outlines of these characters left plenty more to be desired, especially considering they fall into one of two categories of trivial complexity. Some are unpleasant assholes, like Vaughn or Joel McHale, the latter of which plays Kristen Bell’s on-screen husband, a character so obviously confrontational that he persists with unnatural strings off-screen that guide him forcefully, and all but spell-out “VILLAIN” to audience spoon-feeding. Everyone else is considered stupid, which in turn underscores the level of intelligence needed to pull off such a heist. Connie and Jojo make moves that would be brainless even for child protagonists, but take the silver medal when compared to Hauser’s Ken, who embodies every dumb cop stereotype in a way that completely removes the line of urgency that films like these need to sell a compelling narrative.
– Bargain bin value. Earlier, I mentioned the benefits that materialized in reaction to a minimalist budget, but the other side of that coin brings inescapably bland and lifeless execution to a style that is literally the definition of by-the-numbers. The cinematography itself not only occasionally persists with artificial lighting and the occasional hollow computer-generated backdrop, but an overall abundance of eye-cringing lens flares that make it an occasional chore to endure outside sequences. On top of this, cheapness becomes unavoidable all together, when the logo of the U.S Postal Service on the trucks and the uniforms is rendered with an amateur depiction so laughably cheap in order to avoid getting sued by their real life counterparts. I can understand and even forgive this one if their design itself was given time and experimentation to add to its appeal, but it’s too similar to ever feel transcendent, and too mundane to ever capture the scale of its importance, leaving it as a metaphor in a movie constantly trying to find its own voice in a crowd of similar films that did it better.
– Saturated dialogue. Where do I begin with this one? “Queenpins” is certainly a victim to the concept of tell more and show less, as early as five minutes into the film. It’s there where we are clued into Connie and her husband’s mounting financial debt as a result of fertility injections, in order to convey empathy to the audience. By telling us this, and not showing it, it undermines the importance of something so monumental and life-altering for the couple themselves, all the while outlining an indelicate grasping of the material for the audience that is trivial at best in its approach. Beyond this, the dialogue as a whole just doesn’t work as a natural or invigorating approach to conveying information. Aside from the heavy-handed nature of what was previously established, the lines themselves are completely vanilla with taste or personality, feeling so evidently manufactured from an off-screen source, instead of lines that feel conceived spontaneously in the heat of the moment from those encased in it.
My Grade: 4/10 or D-