Queenpins' actress Kristen Bell on the psychology of shopping coupons

Still from the film Queenpins starring Kristen Bell (right) and Kirby Howell-Baptiste.
Still from the film Queenpins starring Kristen Bell (right) and Kirby Howell-Baptiste.PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

SINGAPORE - The caper comedy Queenpins involves the American pastime of extreme couponing - the obsessive collecting of supermarket coupons so as to spend as little as possible at checkout.

Speaking to The Straits Times in an online interview, the stars of the movie - actresses Kristen Bell, 41, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, 34 - explain the appeal of coupon-chasing. It is a habit that often covers unorthodox methods, such as by writing complaints to manufacturers so as to get apology gift cards.

Queenpins opens in cinemas on Sept 9.

Bell, an American, thinks that manipulative marketing helped fuel the rise of the practice. Coupons tap people's primal need to win as well as the fear of losing out, she says.

"To get something we're not supposed to get feels mischievous. It's fun and exciting. Companies understand psychology: Coupons with expiry dates make you feel like something is going to run out," says Bell.

Howell-Baptiste is British, so she learnt about extreme couponing only after she moved to the United States, she says. But she understood the appeal immediately because it is similar to buying frenzies triggered by slashed prices, with no one seeming to care that if corporations can afford to cut prices season after season, something fishy is happening.

"Who doesn't want to feel like they are getting a deal? Something might be on sale, but they doubled the price so they can give you half off. It's a trick," she says.

The film is based on a real case which took place in Phoenix, Arizona, a decade ago.

In the film's spin on the event, Bell is Connie, a suburban wife who, with her best friend - the aspiring social media influencer JoJo (Howell-Baptiste) - hatches a plan to give savings-hungry Americans what they want: coupons, sold at a fraction of their face value. Their scheme attracts the attention of a supermarket chain's loss prevention officer, Ken (Paul Walter Hauser), and postal inspector Simon (Vince Vaughn).

The movie appeals to the human desire to game the system, especially if the victim is a major corporation that has carelessly left a backdoor open. Howell-Baptiste agrees, but warns that the system will strike back harshly, because corporations have the resources to hit hard in court.

"Some people are held much more accountable than others, they are held to a much higher standard. Meanwhile, corporations that caused the stock market to crash were never held accountable for losing tons of investments made by individuals.

"Doing this movie made me look at crime very differently," she says.

In one scene, both women are shown living the high life, paid for with ill-gotten gains. On the surface, it looks like a moment of victory, but Bell says the real win for the women was not financial but emotional.

"I wasn't happy for them because they had all that stuff. I was happy for them because they felt confident and had more power in their lives. That is what I related to the most," she says.

Queenpins opens in cinemas on Sept 9.