Who among us has not wondered — only out of sociological curiosity, of course — why there’s never been a critical mass of sex-crazed dykes who simply have to get off as soon as the thought occurs, and have enough disposable income to pay for it, that would sustain a lesbian-only hustling industry? (Okay, maybe I’m the only one who’s wondered that.) Director Madeleine Olnek’s new comedy, The Foxy Merkins, obliquely explores this question through a sly, deadpan appropriation of the male hustler genre and her hapless protagonist: the asthmatic, bespectacled, jeans-and-tee-clad newcomer to town with the sexy name of Margaret.
In part, the joke is on the tropes of the hustler movie. There are situations straight out of Midnight Cowboy, but in this parallel universe they’re more obviously absurd: the adoption by the wizened pimp/best friend, the sudden need to search for a lost parent, the trip to somewhere out of town with a mandatory bus scene and melancholy score. But the joke is also on us and lesbians’ agonizingly fussy courting and mating practises. (“A yellow bandana in your left back pocket means you have more than one cat,” Jo explains to Margaret in one scene. A different pocket means “that you like women that have been through the change.”)
The hangups and the self-consciousness that often come between women who have just met are made visible — and hilarious — by their total reversal into the opposite. There’s a gem of a scene in the hotel elevator in which Margaret and Jo get slickly picked up by two older women who are in town for a conference. Elsewhere, one of the characters explains that she started working as a lesbian prostitute because it was so damn easy: she was walking around and a woman in an SUV kept honking at her. “It’s just . . . easy, you know? Just walk outside.” And the designated spots where the lesbian hookers hang out waiting for some work to come their way? The Chelsea-looking rows of brownstones and the outside of the Talbots department store. An older woman persistently propositions Jo in a way that’s only ever seen done by men, and this is a joy to observe despite her awful pickup lines.
The film goes to town with the fact that we have much less money and power than our gay brethren and straight men, the more likely consumers of sex for pay. An elderly woman tries to pay Margaret with a gift card. Another client goes down on Margaret in a dark cinema just so she can steal her snacks.
Many scenes will read absurd yet completely true. Can Olnek take on the nouvelle vague or the big Hollywood studio romantic comedy next, please? I’d pay much more than a Talbots gift card to see that.