Madeleine Olnek’s sophomore venture into feature film, The Foxy Merkins, reunites comic duo Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan from their brilliant collaboration in Olnek’s first feature, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. This buddy comedy is quirkier than Olnek’s first venture, with even more moments of punctuated hilarity. But, perhaps because of all the dramatic and comic digressions, it lacks the narrative cohesion that made Codependent a cult hit.
The bumbling, terribly self-conscious Margaret (Haas) finds her way to New York City only to try to make a living from being a lesbian hooker. Not knowing the ropes and unable to sell herself (literally), she serendipitously meets Jo (Monahan), a seasoned hetero hooker, who teaches her the ins and outs of hooking. They form a fast friendship, sleeping in the filthy women’s restroom at the Port Authority and helping each other process their respective relationships with their families. (The search for Margaret’s mother is one tangential thread.)
Jackie Monahan and Lisa Haas
The film is episodic, focusing on the variety of sexual adventures that Margaret lands herself into, with the assistance of Jo. From double-dealing conservative women to sensual seductresses with a fetish for role play, Margaret winds up in a bind—and in handcuffs—on more than one occasion. Where the friends wind up by the film’s denouement is completely unexpected—but perhaps not, as the randomness of life brought them together, it can also take them apart.
Olnek has a recognizable comedic sensibility she first developed in Codependent. The Foxy Merkins parodies the male hustler genre with its protagonists—Margaret being the most unlikely of female prostitutes, not because of her non-stereotypical model body, but because of her shy behavior—and their completely weird trials and tribulations in and around New York City.
Perhaps the most notable one reflects the film’s title. They meet a merkin salesman, played by the perfectly cast Alex Karpovsky (Ray from Girls), who has a treasure trove of “non-hypo-allergenic” merkins, of all shapes and sizes, tucked into his trenchcoat. How he comes to be selling them in a graveyard is beyond hilarious. Margaret and Jo bargain with him for a single, two-piece merkin, which he sells to them for $30—a steal from the sale price of $700.
With their merkins in hand, you think they’d respectively be imbued with some super-hooker powers. Alas, no. Allusions to the merkins pop up a handful of times throughout the film, but the trope all but drops out completely.
Monahan’s deadpan humor is spot on with its comedic timing. Within moments of meeting Margaret out on the streets she asks point blank, “Are you homeless?” which she immediately follows with “Are you a women’s studies major?” Simply fantastic.
Yet it is Haas who captivates, as well as salvages the narrative cohesion as best she can. Earnest and awkward, she goes full frontal in the film’s most memorable scene in which cops catch her in the act. Completely naked, they badger her to drop what’s in her hands and to remove her collar shirt—and the dumbfounded look upon her face is utterly priceless. The character of Margaret is not a trainwreck that one can’t help watching, but a poor little puppy dog that one can’t help but to care for.
The Foxy Merkins is built on an entirely unique premise with simply wonderful performances. The plot is thin and episodic, but still a fun ride.