Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Sundance Review: Despite a Hilarious Setup, Madeleine Olnek's 'The Foxy Merkins' Is a Disappointing Sophomore Effort

By Emma Myers | Indiewire January 21, 2014 at 3:21PM

Olnek turns the male hustler genre on its head to imagine what a lesbian prostitution ring in might look like.
0
'The Foxy Merkins."
'The Foxy Merkins."

In 2011, Madeleine Olnek’s debut feature, "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, premiered at Sundance to positive (if ultimately limited) reception. Made on a shoestring budget, (think space ships made out of tin foil), the warm and witty spoof on sci-fi B-movies firmly established the writer-director’s singular comedic sensibility.  In her follow-up, “The Foxy Merkins,” Olnek turns the male hustler genre on its head to imagine what a lesbian prostitution ring in might look like. Re-casting the previous movie's charmingly deadpan duo Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan, on paper, "The Foxy Merkins" has all the right ingredients to please Olnek's niche audience. Unfortunately, after a truly hilarious and fresh first act, the film can no longer sustain its premise as superfluous subplots and extraneous episodes slow the overall momentum almost to a halt.

Lisa Haas plays Margaret, a down-and-out gay woman who's not quite cutting it on the streets. In the opening scene, we find the overweight, bespeckled Margaret leaning more uncomfortably than casually against the wrought-iron gate of a Manhattan apartment building. Clad in an unflattering t-shirt and hoody and sporting a pair of orthopedic sneakers, Margaret seems like she's the furthest thing from a harlot one, and indeed, most passersby don't so much as glance her way. But after moments of awkward eye contact with a well put together young woman seemingly more interested in yelling into her phone, Margaret finally gets propositioned: "I’d like to be fully serviced," the woman says, "and I'd like to pay more for it. It turns me on to pay more for it." It's an offer most lesbian hookers couldn't refuse, but the still-inexperienced Margaret just doesn’t feel right about it.

Hungry and needing a place to sleep, Margaret meets the more seasoned Jo (Monahan), who offers to take the floundering ingénue under her wing. Taking up residence in the Port Authority bathroom and hooking in front of Talbots—a known goldmine of middle aged women in sweater vests—under Jo's tutelage Margaret manages to get a few "dates" with a motley crew of clientele. From upper class housewives to lowly MFA students, the solicitors demonstrate a wide range of sexual predilections and fetishes that humorously de-romanticize popular conceptions of inter-female intimacy. The frank execution of absurdist situations is key to Olnek’s brand of comedy, a style the director has dubbed "Cinéma Hilarité" for its reliance on a vérité aesthetic. But as the same joke is stretched too thin, the film's slight 90 minute running time begins to feel significantly longer than it really is.

As was the case with "Space Alien," Olnek uses the low-budget aesthetic to the film's advantage. The freewheeling location shooting does justice to the city her characters inhabit, allowing them the space to play and improvise. Drawing on both “My Own Private Idaho" and "Midnight Cowboy,” the film is a buddy movie at heart and fittingly, the central relationship between Jo (who is straight) and Margaret (who is gay) tows the line between erotic and platonic. Respectively tall and thin and short and stout, the two are a natural comedic pair: queer cinema's answer to Abbot and Costello. But while Monahan’s pep provides a necessary counter balance to Haas’ disheveled self-deprecation, the former's performance becomes grating after a while and Haas is left to carry the weight of the film on her shoulders.

Despite an unpolished vulnerability that makes her an entirely loveable presence onscreen, even Haas can’t save the film from its lack of cohesion. A hazily defined search for Margaret’s estranged mother feels haphazard and tangential, even if it does provide a framework for a few direct visual references to “My Own Private Idaho,” and an uncomfortable scene that attempts to make a comment on race is one of a myriad detractors. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of delight throughout the desultory journey. An entertaining graveside rendez-vous with a clandestine merkin salesman played by a well-cast Alex Karpovsky, and a sex scandal with a former client revealed to be a republican congresswoman, rank among the film's highlights.

Already a seasoned playwright, Olnek is clearly a talented writer, and it's unfortunate for a film with such a promising premise that the one-liners and situational humor don't add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Criticwire Grade: C-

HOW IT WILL PLAY? Catering to an already limited audience, "The Foxy Merkins" may find it’s cultish groove on the festival circuit but will likely get limited exposure beyond VOD platforms.


This article is related to: Reviews, The Foxy Merkins, Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival, Festivals, Madeleine Olnek






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More