'Queen Mimi': Film Review

Queen Mimi Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of XLrator Media

Queen Mimi Still - Publicity - H 2016

This quirky character study is far too cutesy.

Yaniv Rokah's documentary profiles a homeless woman known as "The Queen of Santa Monica."

Most homeless people aren't taken in by a business which harbors them for decades, or given the gift of an apartment and cellphone by a Hollywood star. But then again, most homeless people aren't Marie "Mimi" Haist, the subject of Yaniv Rokah's rough-hewn documentary that was five years in the making. Profiling the eccentric woman, now 90, while sketchily touching on themes involving the homeless population in general, Queen Mimi registers as little more than a minor curiosity.

The Israeli director was working as a barista when he first encountered Mimi in a Santa Monica laundromat. Described by one of her friends as the "Queen of Santa Monica," Mimi had been living there for 20 years thanks to the generosity of its owner, Stan Fox, who allowed her to sleep on a plastic chair and assist the patrons in return for tips.

The doc begins as an adoring portrait of its quirky subject, featuring such testimonials from those who know her as "she's an artist of life." Among those commenting is actor Zach Galifianakis, who met her many years ago and has been her friend ever since, even as his Hollywood stardom has risen. He's taken her to red-carpet events, which he professes to loathe, and eventually bought her an apartment in the neighborhood. It was furnished courtesy of Renee Zellweger, another of Mimi's celebrity friends (who does not appear in the film). "It's my honor to know that woman," Galifianakas asserts.

Mimi's backstory is eventually revealed, dampening the tone of the proceedings. She became homeless some 35 years ago while in her mid-fifties, after fleeing a cheating, abusive husband. She left behind two daughters who she subsequently had little to do with; one died several years ago, and the other, interviewed in the film, relates her ambivalent feelings toward her absent mother.

Mimi also is revealed to be a complex figure, alternately funnily engaging and darkly disagreeable. She displays great pride in such matters as never having gone through anyone's trash (she made an exception for a local restaurant), and takes umbrage when a magazine article about her friendship with Galifianakis discloses her homeless status.

But Queen Mimi never probes too deeply, as if discreetly unwilling to further invade its subject's privacy, and it also presents a fairly rosy portrait of the homeless epidemic currently bedeviling Los Angeles. It succeeds on putting a very human face on the dire problem, but the one it's selected is hardly emblematic.

Distributor: XLrator Media
Production company: Mas Mas Productions
Director-screenwriter: Yaniv Rokah
Producer: Elliot V. Kotek
Executive producers: Michael Pellico, Michael Shamberg, Shlomo Benartzi, Jurgen Alexander Van de Leur, Peter Spirer
Director of photography: Andrew Fox
Editor: Ally Garrett
Composer: Ronald G. Passaro

Not rated, 76 minutes