SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2014
By Don Simpson | December 5, 2014
Director: Madeleine Olnek
Writers: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Madeleine Olnek
Starring: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Alex Karpovsky, Diane Ciesla, Dennis Davis, Jennifer Prediger
Margaret (Lisa Haas) recently moved to New York City in an erstwhile attempt to become a lesbian hooker. Lacking in experience but motivated by the desire to make enough money to support herself, Margaret eventually joins forces with a seasoned professional, Jo (Jackie Monahan). Though Jo is an unabashed heterosexual, she has presumably mastered the ways of servicing female clients. Jo teaches Margaret the secret to turning tricks, while simultaneously educating her on the fine arts of hustling and grifting. This is all just fun and games to Jo, who has the safety net of a wealthy family and possesses an uncanny ability to woo male suitors for financial support. The situation is much more serious for Margaret, who must find ways to make money in order to survive.
Becoming fast friends, Margaret sleeps beside Jo in a makeshift home in a Port Authority public restroom. They hit the streets alongside each other, usually standing in front of a Talbot’s (presumably a Mecca for lesbian prostitutes), awaiting the next bored conservative housewife to proposition them. They sometimes work jobs in tandem, though clients tend to prefer Jo’s traditionally attractive figure to Margaret’s frumpiness. It is not long until their friendship is torn apart by the inherent differences in their finances, physical attractiveness and sexuality.
A satirical throwback to the male hustler films of the 1970s, Madeleine Olnek’s The Foxy Merkins presents a blatant display of lesbian sexuality without ever becoming overtly graphic. While the story may be a bit too hard to swallow for the devout homophobics of the world, Olnek’s uncanny knack for screwball comedy should make the film otherwise accessible. The contrasting appearances of Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan form a visual aesthetic that functions somewhat similarly to Laurel and Hardy. Haas and Monahan — who also worked in tandem on Olnek’s Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2011) — share a unique comedic chemistry, effortlessly playing off of each other. Sharing writing credit with Olnek, Haas and Monahan deliver a series of impeccably written jokes, some of which are more self-deprecating than others.
The Foxy Merkins deserves credit for its brazen approach to an otherwise overlooked subject, as Olnek cleverly discusses the economics of prostitution, specifically how the shape and size of one’s body factors into the equation. Speaking of bodies, it is actually quite refreshing to see someone of Haas’ body type appear on screen utterly naked. There is nothing gratuitously sexy or humorous about Haas’ nudity, it merely captures Margaret’s awkwardness and insecurity, two qualities that prostitutes usually do not possess.
The narrative, however, seems clumsily inconsistent. There is a spattering of unfunny jokes (for example: the popcorn lady) and an overly repetitive use of certain gags (for example: the police raid); but when The Foxy Merkins does hit it’s stride, which is more often than not, the comedy reaches near-brilliance (Alex Karpovsky’s fleeting cameo as a mumbling “foxy merkins” dealer is funny on so many levels).
This review was originally published on Film Threat during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.