As Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” which is exactly why so many movies open with the claim: “Based on a true story.”
The latest is Queenpins, a crime caper-comedy starring Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste that took its inspiration from the true-life 2012 arrests of three women in Arizona who were charged with running a $40 million counterfeit coupon ring. During raids, police seized $2 million in assets from their homes, including vehicles worth $240,000, 22 guns and a 40-foot speed boat.
The film, written and directed by husband-and-wife duo Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, treats Bell and Howell-Baptiste’s fictionalized takes on the women with nothing but reverence. Struggling in their lives, dragged down by a bad husband or bad luck, they are the heroes of their own story — stealing from corporations and hooking up other coupon-reliant shoppers.
“I have the utmost amount of respect for them, oddly, and I don’t say that about many criminals,” Bell tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent virtual press day for the film (watch above).
“The reality — and I think what we certainly tried to expand upon in the movie — is how discounted these women felt and how undervalued they felt and what that can do to your spirit. But if you have a really close friend, and they provide you with some self-esteem, you two could decide to take on the world and start making your own rules. And it takes a lot of smarts. Serious couponers, I think we don’t give enough credit to what a high level of math they’re doing and how smart they actually are.”
Howell-Baptiste (Cruella), who replaced initial star Leslie Jones in the film, agrees.
“It’s rare that you can relate to or root for a criminal,” she says. “But I think the fact that they are doing something that does feel slightly Robin Hood-like, it feels like they’re trying to better themselves and bettering the lives of people around them without hurting any other human being.”
“If you’re smart, you use a coupon,” Bell insists. “And I don’t like labels or groups, but I’m gonna go to the grave with that one. Smart people use coupons.
“There is a high that comes along with getting a discount or having an exclusive offer. There’s definitely something emotional attached to it. But it also feels really good to save money. I’ll use them when I get them. I’m not an extreme couponer, but my grandmother actually was. [She] was quite extreme and would save all the UPC [codes] and barcodes, and when she had a hundred would send it into the company. And they’d say, ‘Thanks for being a loyal customer, here’s 5 bucks as a rebate.’ And with all those tiny checks she started her grandchildren’s college funds.”
Queenpins is now playing.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Schuyler Stone
Watch the trailer: