“Are you a women’s studies major?”
And thus begins a beautiful friendship – sort of. The sweetly neurotic Margaret (Lisa Haas) has just moved to New York City (for reasons never fully explained, like much of the narrative action in The Foxy Merkins) and, without a job or a home, has flirted with prostitution as a possible career path. Margaret’s apparent aim is to hook (literally) closeted housewives, preppy upper crust ladies, country club bunnies, and the like, but she’s woefully inept at landing her prey, and she’s in dire need of both a friend and a little direction. Jo (Jackie Monahan) is a gal with a little bit of experience when it comes to hustling (life) and hustling (street). The duo become fast friends outside a downtown Manhattan diner, with Jo winning both Margaret and the audience over with that crisply tossed-off women’s studies remark, a joke that would fall flat if delivered from a less salty mouth.
Margaret soon moves in with Jo at her pied-a-terre – a bathroom at the Port Authority bus station, where Jo stashes both her body (under the sink, every night) and a bottle of good tequila (behind a toilet) – and the pair begin hooking around town together, principally centering their operations outside a neighborhood Talbots store (smart clothes, preppy women, and they don’t kick you out). While Margaret is unschooled at her new profession, and her neuroses and asthma seem to inhibit her success at every turn, Jo is so experienced that she can trot down the street and pick out individuals she has slept with (it may be an act of winsome hyperbole on her part, but there’s a grain of truth there).
It would all be mortifying and terribly sad if the tone of Madeline Olnek’s film didn’t stay unfailingly light and fluffy. Haas and Monahan have a solid chemistry between them, and their vague neophyte-and-mentor dichotomy works wonders. It’s almost enough to make even the most absurd and shiftless scenes in the film enjoyable. Olnek is obviously going for a twist on the old “two male hustlers making their way through the city” trope (call it Midnight Cowgirl if you must, and then reevaluate the way you contextualize movies), or at least that’s what the film’s IMDb page tells us.
While that’s one way to view what the talent behind The Foxy Merkins are trying to do here, Olnek, Haas, and Monahan clearly have a unique point of view that can spawn great comedic rewards. The Foxy Merkins, however, is not the best example of that point of view or those comedic chops, and its undercooked premise would be far better suited for a short or a television series that could evolve over time.
Despite a fun and frisky premise (or, at the very least, an interesting premise that its eager leads and their comedic tone and timing make seem fun and frisky), The Foxy Merkins suffers from a tremendous lack of forward motion and narrative drive, instead giving over to a series of bizarre and absurd one-off situations. The film zings between different locations (some are introduced via unnecessary intertitles that distract more than anything) with little apparent sense, and messy editing fails to make different seasons, different outfits, and different haircuts coalesce in a satisfying manner. The film also weaves in interviews with former lesbian hookers, some of which feel oddly real, and all of which are out of place within the context of the narrative (and really seem just like filler used to stretch out the 81-minute runtime).
Olnek, Haas, and Monahan wrote the film together, and the trio certainly has an ear (ears?) for everyday conversation, small talk, random chatter, and sharply funny observations about commonplace occurrences, but the overall narrative of the film can’t be held up by good conversation or interesting chemistry alone. Undercooked and underwhelming, The Foxy Merkins could stand to conceal less and reveal a lot more.
The Upside: Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan have a solid comedic chemistry together, realistic and amusing conversation, the film’s plot (loose as it is) is original and amusing.
The Downside: The film lacks a cohesive or complete narrative, the inclusion of interviews does not fit with the style and aims of the film, and it’s often too bizarre and absurd to connect with on any level.
On the Side: Haas and Monahan previously starred together in Olnek’s 2011 Sundance film, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.
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