Movie Review: Homelessness finds a face in “Queen Mimi”


One LA woman, a sometime actress and producer, remembers stepping over this listless, very elderly homeless woman sitting on the curb of Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.

Another woman, a sometime producer, endured a chewing out by the old lady in her local laundramat.

A famous actor from the “Hangover” movies befriended her, put her on TV and took her to premieres. An Oscar winner befriended her as well.

But it was a neighborhood barista and aspiring filmmaker who looked at Mimi, “The Queen of Santa Monica,” and thought, “There’s a story here. And a movie.”

“Queen Mimi” is a documentary about homelessness that puts a sympathetic face on homelessness and says a lot, perhaps accidentally, about Los Angeles as it does.

Mimi works, lives and sleeps in the Fox Laundry on Montana Ave. when we meet her. She’s funny, articulate, very old and stooped, at least in part because of the fact that she sleeps sitting in one of those plastic lawnchairs that you find in most of America’s eternally downmarket laundramats.

But even there, you cross paths with “the industry.” Somehow, Renee Zellweger met Mimi. And Zach Galifianakis.

And Yaniv Rokah, who moved to LA to make movies but found himself pouring coffee, spent years learning her story and filming “Queen Mimi.” She’s met a lot of people, and as the cliche goes, “touched a lot of lives.”

She’s memorable because she’s a genuine character, prone to fussing as customers “she takes an instant dislike to.” She doesn’t refer to herself as homeless and bristles with contempt at those who do.

But as Rokah gets a little deeper — not that deep at all, to be honest — we learn how she spent decades on Westwood and Santa Monica’s streets, a tiny bit of how she survived and a little about her background.

“I didn’t eat a lot, I’ll tell you that.” She took “spit baths.”

But she dances with the younger employees of the laundramat. She’ll tell you “I like YOUNG men, not some of these old crawdads.”

Which is how Zach Galifianakis was drawn to her. She’s likely to be found in a Hustler t-shirt, with “Relax, it’s just sex.”

“She fits in, in a very strange way,” Galifianakis says of her and why he’s taken her to movie premieres. Is there something going on between them?

“She’s old enough to be my ANCESTOR,” he cracks.

Rokah — he allows himself to be a character in his own film — hangs with her, and learns something of where Mimi came from, but never zeroes in on why she is the way she is. Others, those who have tried to help her with varying degrees of success, hint that “she likes to drink.” But 40 years of homelessness is hard to explain, except between the lines.

She found herself alone, divorced, embarrassed to let her kids know how she was living, unemployed and perhaps unemployable in a stupidly-expensive but generally warm and survivable coastal city. Mimi endured.

“Queen Mimi” is generally content to be cute when it might have gone deep, warm when it could have had pathos, warmly upbeat because, you know, homeless people have a lot of Hollywood advocates or those who stick up for them in the culture as a whole.

It can be a bit frustrating that way, kind of flippant, a tail-wagging-the-dog (does the filming put those who know her on the spot to spend some Hollywood cash and DO something for her? Maybe.

But there’s a real hero here, and his name’s Stan Fox. He’s the laundramat owner who decided this homeless person hanging around his business wasn’t a nuisance, was worthy of compassion and was worth getting to know. He let her live there, gave her a job and purpose and a shred of dignity.

And it’s Stan that “Queen Mimi” celebrates, right alongside the charismatic and eccentric Queen that is the film’s star in this good but not great documentary.

MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity, sexual content

Cast: Mimi Haist, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Boatwright, Rita Branch, Yaniv Rokah
Credits: Written and directed by Yaniv Rokah. An XLRator release.

Running time: 1:17

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