Queenpins, the Best Comedy of 2021

Queenpins takes the true crime story of the country’s largest counterfeit coupon scam, ran by two women living in suburban Phoenix, Arizona, and much like The Wolf of Wall Street or Buffaloed before it, turns it into one of the best comedies of the year. Kristen Bell and Kirby Baptiste star as the titular queenpins, Connie and JoJo, both on a quest to reap the rewards of a new business venture involving stolen coupons, a “super saver” brand, and the hack attack IT help of a dark web entrepreneur (Bebe Nexha). The narrative is a buddy film inside of a buddy film, with Vince Vaughn and Paul Walter Hauser as two tight-asses on the trail to uncover these ladies’ illegal trade, and the chemistry between them is what sets the movie apart from lesser true story-cum-comedies.

Queenpins‘ cast is an embarrassment of riches. Besides the central quartet, the sprawling ensemble includes Joel McHale, Annie Mumolo, Jack McBrayer, Paul Rust, Stephen Root, Eduardo Franco, and even Nick Cassavetes in an unexpected cameo. It’s a who’s-who of comedic supporting actors from the previous decade-plus, filling out the runtime with funny faces and personalities, all of whom contribute their extra “something” to minor characters that would otherwise be rather forgettable. Bell and Baptiste are splendid as two women looking for bigger and better things in life, the former’s frequent smile belying lingering pain over a miscarriage and inability to conceive a child with her husband (McHale), and the latter’s peppy voice of reason preventing what could’ve been a failure from the jump. Together they make a dynamic duo once the bizzy light bulbs start shining, with Connie providing the joie de vivre and JoJo the business gusto. As a loss prevention analyst for a nationwide grocery store chain, Paul Walter Hauser proves himself a comedic treasure. His Ken Miller is a coupon connoisseur and a rules-are-rules wannabe-law enforcer, his lonely personal life and passion for coupons leading him to discover what everyone else didn’t have time or patience for, including the F.B.I. If there was justice, nay, sanity in the Academy, they would nominate him in Best Supporting Actor. Alas, comedy is verboten in most corners of the Oscars. Vince Vaughn provides a deadpan partner-in-crime-prevention as a U.S. postal inspector who treats his traveling gig like a serious government op on par with heavy duty bureau hassles. They’re so charming together you’ll wish for a spin-off revolving around their silly antics as do-gooder inspectors.

Intriguingly, Queenpins doesn’t become a cautionary tale in the manner of most true-crime stories, where pride cometh before the fall and the protagonists either die or end up destitute in some way. Yes, there are consequences and comeuppances, but we’re not meant to view these penny entrepreneurs-turned-white-collar-criminals as equivalent to the Jordan Belforts of the world. By hook or by crook, Connie and JoJo were were going to make something of themselves after getting screwed by health insurance companies and identity theft, respectively. Directors Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet never let us forget the inequalities that forced them into such a predicament. And Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn somehow make us yearn for a time when buddy comedy was blowing up the box office. Here’s hoping Hauser can buck the anti-comedy trend of the Academy.

Grade: B

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