From outside L.A. is the land of dreams, a sunny, glitzy, paradise where the stars are plenty and money grows on trees. It’s no secret that there’s a less fortunate side to the city of Angels, with its Skid Row becoming the de facto term for an impoverished area. Queen Mimi manages to blend the two sides to give a different look at a world we all think we know, but in true Hollywood fashion it does so by telling the story of a woman whose life was almost built for the big screen. Marie “Mimi” Haist is a 90-year-old force of nature and a living part of the fabric of Santa Monica, Mimi is also homeless. If you’re looking for Mimi you can find her at Fox Laundromat where, for the last 20 years and thanks to the generosity of its owner, Stan Fox, she’s been living. By day Mimi entertains patrons and helps fold clothes for tips, when the day is done she retires to a plastic chair that serves as her bed inside the Laundromat. If you follow TMZ or any other entertainment source you may have heard that Mimi has some famous friends who have helped her along the way.
The documentary starts as an almost uplifting look into Mimi’s life, touching on her less-then-fortunate situation, sure, but also capturing the woman herself. Yaniv Rokah, the film’s director, does a wonderful job capturing the aura of Mimi…a woman who smiles consistently and carries with her the spirit of a 12-year-old, mischievous and full of light. She comes off as that grandma who still plays pranks but will set you straight if you do something she doesn’t like. After spending a few minutes with Mimi through the cameras lens it’s almost easy to see how she became this almost mythological figure to those of us outside of Fox Laundromat. Rokah brings on Mimi’s most publicized celeb friend, Zach Galifinakas. Galifinakas has received a large amount of (obviously unwanted) publicity for his friendship with Mimi who he has taken to red carpet premiers and set up with an apartment and a cell phone. During his segment he seems genuinely sincere yet somewhat uncomfortable talking about what he’s done for her, something that makes his generosity all that more endearing which is punctuated by his assertion that it is his honor to know Mimi (by the way, that apartment? Renee Zellweger threw her help in as well by way of furnishings). The film does a great job of painting these acts of generosity as friends helping each other as opposed to the easy route of showing a celebrity throwing some disposable cash down for a quick PR move.
Far from a puff piece Rokah then probes slightly deeper into the story of “Who is Mimi, and how did she get here?”. We find out that Mimi’s road toward homelessness began when she left an abusive husband, in the process leaving two daughters behind as well. It’s obvious and understandable that this is a subject Mimi isn’t entirely comfortable talking about, for most filmmakers the investigatory side of the documentary probably would have ended there. Rokah is a friend of Mimi’s though and you get the sincere sense that the trust and friendship allowed him to get farther then most even facilitating some communication between Mimi and one of her daughters (the other had since, sadly, passed away). The film doesn’t linger on the tough stuff, which I think some people may take issue with, but I see as a friend respecting the privacy of another friend while still getting enough to make a full, well-rounded, story.
Queen Mimi, while not exactly a feel good story, is definitely an hour and change of film that will leave with some valuable life lessons. In a world where people are spun into untreatable clinical depression because they couldn’t get the model car they wanted, or the dream job they longed for, Mimi shows us that there’s joy in life regardless of your situation and that frame of mind is everything.
3.5 Out of 5 Guttenbergs