The Sundance Film Festival has a section of films called “NEXT.” These are movies that typically must be taken with a fair amount of patience because they are what the festival describes as “works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling” that “will shape a greater ‘next’ wave in American cinema.” This translates to movies that, in the experience of the NEXT films I’ve screened, tend to be rather rough around the edges. But I try to look for the positive things in these films. The best of them are exciting and even if they fail on the whole, they show a lot of potential. The worst of the NEXT films are absolutely unbearable. The vast majority fall into the muddled middle, which The Foxy Merkins uncomfortably calls home.
While another critic/colleague, when I mentioned I was seeing this film, thought it was a “been there, done that” movie, I really hoped it would be something more. The Foxy Merkins is blurbed as “an unflinchingly outrageous urban adventure” about Margaret, “a down-on-her-luck, lesbian hooker in training” who “meets Jo, a beautiful, self-assured grifter from a wealthy family and an expert on picking up women.” Particularly because it comes from women writers and directors, I was rooting for the film. As we’ve written about at length on the site, the industry needs more comedies from women because a Bridesmaids here and a Girls there is not enough to shut up the “women aren’t funny and can’t do comedy noise” (and Girls itself is about as divisive a comedy as is out there right now). While The Foxy Merkins shows a few glimmers of hope, it unfortunately will not silence the derisive masses.
To get the negative out of the way, The Foxy Merkins feels like a bad film school movie, with a cheap budget, mostly shoddy acting, stilted dialogue, sloppy editing, and an absolute mess of a storyline. It has nice aspirations, trying to be a vulgar female comedy that touches on themes of family, sexuality and female friendship. But I think, it just fails to meet those aspirations. The team of writers and director (four women who were also responsible for 2011’s Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) bit off more than they could chew. While the film runs a tight 81 minutes, it still manages to meander, presenting scenes that are likely more outrageous on paper than on screen and too abruptly shifting gears to scenes that (I think) are supposed to carry emotional weight but for the fact that the viewer never comes close to connecting with any of the characters to really care.
With all that said, it’s easy to understand why about a third of the theater walked out over the course of this short film. I stuck it out, hoping there would be some redemption to the experience when all was said and done. There was not much, but there were some glimmers here and there. Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan were not without their moments as the lead actresses, and Monahan in particularly showed something that might work well in a Comedy Central ensemble skit show. The film had a couple of amusing lines and one properly funny scene, an faux-documentary interview of other female prostitutes that felt like it was cut from another movie that I would have preferred to have been watching.
At the end of the day, there’s not much here. The Foxy Merkins doesn’t spark any animosity or anger in me, but I instead find myself drowning in total indifference. I don’t like sh*tting on small, indy flicks, so let’s just say that this isn’t a film that anyone needs to seek out but, trying to be optimistic, hopefully this is an early bump in the road for the folks behind it. If nothing else, at least the film taught me that if I’m ever homeless, I should make a bus station bathroom my alcohol hidey-hole since “nobody expects that there will be really good tequila in the bathroom.”
The Foxy Merkins premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. You’ll likely never hear of it again.