Kristen Bell as Connie Kaminski and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as JoJo Johnson in QUEENPINS. Credit: Courtesy STX Films
Queenpins movie husband-and-wife team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly talk to Awards Daily about writing and directing their coupon caper.
With a background in documentary films, the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly applied their attention to detail to their comedy Queenpins, based on the true story of Phoenix women who sold counterfeit coupons and made millions.
Gaudet and Pullapilly actually went to Phoenix and spoke with the detective who investigated the women, who ended up showing them the real-life coupons the ladies used to deceive people. And yet while the film’s characters Connie (Kristen Bell) and JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) are fictionalized, they are also based in reality.
“The characters themselves are made up and our own creation,” said Pullapilly, “because to us it was really important to tell the story that we wanted to tell within that world. We were more fascinated that a crime like this could exist, but we wanted to create that world around it. Connie, JoJo, Simon (Vince Vaughn) and Ken (Paul Walter Hauser) are—what Aron and I feel—what we’re all often feeling in this life: undervalued and discounted. We’re all looking for a loophole to find our joy and happiness in life.”
You can see this happiness in Bell’s Connie when she’s in her element at the grocery store—the scenes are vibrant and colorful—but when she gets home, the colors are muted. Gaudet and Pullapilly based Connie on tragic true stories about what happens to some of America’s Olympic heroes.
“We had just watched this segment on television about Olympians who use coupons because the United States doesn’t subsidize these athletes,” said Gaudet. “So Connie would have used coupons, she would have struggled to make ends meet. Then we thought, what’s the most undervalued Olympic sport out there? We stumbled upon race walking and it all fell into place. We were reading about how a lot of Olympic athletes have trouble conceiving [children] because of what they put their bodies through. Every part of looking into that Olympic athlete informed her character.”
As part of their research, they also got race walking Olympian Robyn Stevens, who just competed in the 2020 Tokyo games, to consult on the film, who ended up being impressed with Bell’s commitment to her character’s form.
“She would say how good Kristen was. It was fun to see that.”
A Love Letter to the Postal Service
But just when you think you know where the story is going and who the heroes are, Paul Walter Hauser’s fraud specialist Ken, who’s hot on Connie and JoJo’s trail, enters the picture and not only injects an additional dose of laughter into the comedy, but also heart. A lesser film would make Ken a bumbling, one-note fool, but Gaudet and Pillapully give him dimension.
“We never judge our characters,” says Gaudet. “Ideally, we like to think of every character as the hero of their own story. Wherever we are, we want them to feel like it could be their movie.”
Vince Vaughn’s postal inspector completes the cast, as the no-nonsense Simon who partners with Hauser’s Ken to bring down the women. One of the most poignant moments in the film surrounding the question of unanswered letters is based on a suggestion from Vaughn, a scene that highlights the importance of the postal service and correspondence.
“At that time [of filming], coming up on the [2020 presidential] election, there was a lot of talk of postal workers and their importance. We wanted to make this as a love letter to the postal service.”
A Big Comedy Pay-Off
The film features a lot of comedic players from a variety of backgrounds and styles, with other supporting actors including Annie Mumolo (Barb and Star. . .,Bridesmaids), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Paul Rust (Netflix’s Love), and even actor/director Nick Cassavetes. Coming from a background in drama and journalism, which includes the duo’s uplifting military documentary The Way We Get By and teen potato harvest drama Beneath the Harvest Sky, Gaudet and Pillapully consider their cast to be both their greatest compliment and gift.
“These wonderful comedic talents would come and say, ‘Guys, this is funny. We really enjoy this and think we can make something special,'” said Pillapully.
“We had written a script that we thought was funny and would make a good comedy,” added Gaudet, “but when you bring in that kind of comedic talent to it, they’re just elevating everything. These lines that you hope are going to play funny, they can make anything funny.”
Queenpins is in theaters September 10 and available soon on Paramount+.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.