The idea of extreme couponing isn’t something new that came out in the 2000s. I remember back when grocery stores used to give out stamps that you could collect to be used when they had weekly deals. One time, the Piggly Wiggly in my home town had a special on canned dog food that was a good bargain. Working at K-Mart as a summer job, people would often come in with them they collected out of sales papers. I worked in the newspaper business for over a decade and those coupons were especially popular among our readers.
I used to have a subscription to the Tulsa World and when they would deliver as I live out in the country and often would be missing papers, companies like Proctor & Gamble had enough coupons on a monthly basis, it paid for the monthly subscription. Coupons are basically advertisements encouraging consumers to buy their products. You might never use a certain brand of shampoo or potato chips but the illusion that you’re saving money, even if it’s less than a dollar is enough to get you to buy them.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of consumers who hate it when people use coupons as they’re mostly thought to be used for middle-aged women and housewives. Dollar General offers weekly $5 off coupons for shopping on Saturdays and there are $5 off coupons on the receipt mostly. So, along with the digital coupons on your mobile device, I have sometimes saved over $10-15 during one transaction. I heard of some people who would have their teenage kids’ or partner’s numbers also collecting those same digital coupons so they would use that too. But I think Dollar General put a stop to that at one location, requiring customers to go to other locations.
I generally don’t eat at a fast-food restaurant or franchise restaurant unless I got a good coupon. McDonald’s has many of them to offer. Burger King offers deals as well. Yes, you are saving money but some of the arguments have said that the companies are passing along the difference to the rising cost of other items or moving some of their operations out of America.
It’s this exploitation that is at the center of Queenpins, a comedy that is loosely (very) based on a true-crime schemed that started in Arizona about 15 years ago. Naturally, the writing/directing team of Aron Gaudit and Gita Pullapilly toned it down to make the protagonists more sympathetic. Kristen Bell in all her bubbliness and gee-golly perkiness plays Phoenix housewife Connie Kaminiski stuck in a bad marriage to her husband, Rick (Joel McHale) who works for the IRS and is gone most of the time. Connie is an Olympiad race-walker, which is a real category, but she’s been unlucky having the child she’s always wanted. She’s tried to get pregnant several times and almost came close to the point of setting up a nursery only to lose the baby.
With medical bills totally about $72,000, she’s turned her failed nursery in a storage room as she’s using coupons to save money. Rick doesn’t like it and reminds her that they probably could’ve taken some trips around the world with that money. With him, everything is too expensive. When she wants to have sushi for dinner, he refuses and reminds her about a coupon she has for TGIFridays, which they do take-out to avoid a tip.
Connie has started a friendship with the couponing through a neighbor, JoJo Johnson (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who’s had to move back in with her mother after being the victim of identity theft to the point she can’t even open a bank account in her name. JoJo’s other passion is doing YouTube videos but is oblivious to the fact that postal worker Earl (Dayo Okeniyi) is very smitten with her. She tries to make money selling cosmetics but since most people don’t use cash nowadays, she’s not successful.
One day, Connie eats from a cereal box of Wheaties that doesn’t taste good. She writes a complaint letter and gets a free coupon in return. Realizing she can fudge some complaint letters to get free coupons, she sells some of them for a fraction of what they’re worth. But soon notices that all complaint letters go to the same location. And all coupons are being manufactured at a plant in Chihuahua, Mexico. The company closed down a plant in the Midwest and moved to Mexico to save costs, so why not stick it to these companies who took jobs away from Americans and hurt economies.
They find some help with a Mexican couple Alejandro and Rosa (Francisco J. Rodriguez and Ilia Isorelys Paulino) who print duplicate coupons that they can sell on the Internet to make money. Unfortunately, it’s at this point, the movie starts to loose some of its steam. Finding their PayPal account frozen because of a high amount, they contact an identity theft criminal, Tempe Tina (Bebe Rexha), who tells them they have to launder the money. Rexha is great in her role but the filmmakers went overboard by making it look like she operates in a spy espionage manner.
They then introduce two characters that should’ve been portrayed better. Paul Walter Hauser plays Ken, a loss prevention specialist who takes his job too seriously that he’s basically an anal retentive jerk. And Vince Vaugh appears halfway through as a stoic U.S. Postal inspector named Simon Kilmurry since the coupons were sent through the mail. I would’ve liked to see more of Simon and less of Ken. It’s nothing against Hauser it’s just that the filmmakers couldn’t do more to his character than reduce him to the “fatty make a funny” tropes. At one point, he actually defecates in his pants. Why? Because seeing big guys do gross things is funny, right? No.
Just because Hauser is a big guy doesn’t mean he has to do every stereotype that movies for decades have done with big guys. He played the lead in Richard Jewell, directed by Clint Eastwood, for God’s sake. And Eastwood could’ve done what other directors do, hire average-size actors to wear fatsuits or go on food binges to gain weight. Ken is too over the top and too much that he brings the movie down. And Vaugh adds just enough to the role to portray a man who doesn’t want to be called a postman but knows sometimes you have to take the jobs you’re assigned that don’t seem like they’re big.
There’s too much spent on Connie and JoJo trying to foolishly launder the money that you think they would’ve had some fun with their coupon-selling scheme. I guess the filmmakers didn’t want to make them out to be too criminal. In real-life it was the companies who alerted authorities to this scheme. As a lawyer for the government says, all they did was exploit a loophole the major companies exploited and to keep their name out of the media, some chose not to pursue it more aggressively. In real life, it was orchestrated by three women who had to pay a lot in restitutions.
In the end, this movie could’ve been better had it just left out the whole money laundering part and made Hauser character less comedic. McHale also does so little in this movie, they could’ve just taken his character out completely. He just plays the nagging husband who pops up every 10 minutes or so for a two-three minute scene so we can see what kind of a jerk he is. I also never really believed how Connie or JoJo would so suddenly resort to what they knew was illegal to begin with.
It reminded me too much of the 2016 movie Masterminds about a 1997 true-crime case of the Loomis Fargo Robbery. Straight forward, the case is fascinating enough without the outrageousness and quirky characters added.
What do you think? Please comment.