“Oh, it’s a merkin salesman!”
“What’s a merkin?”
“It’s a toupée for your vagina.”
Writer/director Madeleine Olnek has a gift for titles. The Foxy Merkins is her newest, a moniker just as ridiculous but more succinct than that of her last film, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. It’s a buddy comedy about lesbian hookers in New York, starring Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan, who also co-wrote the film. The synopsis invokes “bargain-hunting housewives” and “double-dealing conservative women” among their clients, both of which promise a certain degree of hilarity. Jo (Monahan) is the more experienced of the two, and resolutely identifies as heterosexual. Margaret (Haas) is the newbie, down on her luck and looking for cash.
If this sounds a bit like Midnight Cowboy, that’s because it’s likely a satire, at least in part. Space Alien, which also starred both Monahan and Haas, was an irreverent send-up of old science fiction B-movies, complete with dirt-cheap sets and entirely unbelievable flying saucers. There’s a wonderful sense of love and wit in Olnek’s brand of spoof, which was recognized by IFP as one of 2011’s best undistributed films and part of that year’s Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You series. Its comedy is as understated as its production, which planted its absurdly dressed bald-headed lesbian aliens in diners and gay bars around Manhattan. The ensuing awkwardness, both in dialogue and visual juxtaposition, make it one of the most interesting indie comedies of the last few years. And you can rent it on iTunes and Amazon Instant!
That said, The Foxy Merkins probably won’t be driven by silly sets or costumes, given the absence of intergalactic travel. A slightly more subtle kind of humor is probably to be expected, which we can guess from the omnipresent Alex Karpovsky‘s turn as a merkin salesman. For some reason choosing to hawk his wares in a cemetery, he’s a caricature of the old-timey stolen watch peddler but with rudimentary vagina toupées hanging from the inside of his coat. The other supporting characters, though glimpsed briefly, look to be just as perfectly caricatured.
So what do they need? The film is finished, already has an Independent Spirit Award nomination, and just played Sundance (where our own Kate Erbland wasn’t a fan, but that doesn’t mean others of us won’t be). The Kickstarter is to tie up some loose ends — legal fees, mandatory distribution insurance, materials, print and advertising budgets. Basically, The Foxy Merkins needs a last wave of help to make sure that all of us who couldn’t make it to Park City will get the chance to see the film down the road. That means other festivals, and hopefully a commercial theatrical release.
More proof that the film is worth your support? Two of Olnek’s short films are up on YouTube. The first is Hold Up, a comedy of embarrassing incompetence that begins with a disastrous convenience store robbery and ends somewhere entirely different. It played Sundance in 2006, Olnek’s Park City debut. Simply made and held together by a performance with exactly the right amount of fragility, it relishes its own discomfort.
You can also watch 2009’s Countertransference here.
Frankly, it seems a little silly that a film like this should need help in the first place. Independent lesbian comedies about space aliens and hookers are, admittedly, not your typical box office draw. But why is that? It seems obvious, but the nice thing about Kickstarter really is the opportunity that we have to directly support the cinema we want, no matter how “niche” it may seem on the grander scale. Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same finds its own sort of comedy, in a spoof that also manages to find its own way of making an audience laugh. If you want more LGBT comedy, or just new and different comedy in general, help The Foxy Merkins make its way out of Sundance and into a theater near you.