Lately, I have been watching a lot of TV series and films as I have found it hard to focus on my reading. I binge watched the 5 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race available to me on the UK Netflix, and naturally that segued into looking up films with Cher in (Thank you, Chad Michaels).
Now, I did watch Burlesque (2010) as that was the latest thing i could find and I think the less said about that, the better! I stopped watching it as I was that bored/annoyed at it. I went back the next day and suffered through the ending, but it was such a chore!
Last night though, I decided to check out Mermaids (1990), directed by Richard Benjamin.
I had never watched it before and the only thing I knew about it was that it starred Cher, Winona Ryder and a teeny Christina Ricci, and that the Shoop Song was on the soundtrack. And damn, did I love the Shoop Song when I was little!
I did always assume that the film was some sort of comedy-fantasy involving Cher as a real mermaid. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a drama!
This film was released just shy of 2 years after I was born, so I never got a chance to see it in the cinema. It is set in the 1960s though and has a sort of nostalgia filter on for 60’s fashion and lifestyle rather than being 80’s or 90’s. Cher looks amazing and Christina Ricci looks adorable. Winona Ryder is not really my favourite actress but she was decent in this. When I saw Bob Hoskins, I got a lump in my throat. It’s the first film I have watched with him in since his death. What a guy.
I read that the film had some production issues. Benjamin was the film’s 3rd choice of director as original director, Lasse Hallström quit and then replacement Frank Oz had conflicts with Cher. That worried me, as Hallström directed one of my favourite films “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (1993) and Frank Oz’s name speaks for itself! if they’d been scared off the project then it must have been bad!
Then I read that they had a legal issue with the girl they’d originally cast as Charlotte. Cher decided she was too blonde to believably be related to her so they got Ryder instead. In the end, Emily Lloyd got a nice payoff.
This film wins the award for Most Boring Opening Sequence Ever. Seriously. It’s just a slow mo clip of Ricci in a swimming race. I was so tempted to switch off but told myself to keep watching. I wanted this film ticked off my to-watch list.
The plot, rather than being about actual mermaids, is about a woman and her two daughters. Rachel Flax is a single mother of two girls, 15 year old Charlotte and 9 year old Kate. Charlotte is obsessed with Catholicism, despite the family’s Jewish heritage, and Kate is a talented swimmer. Mrs Flax (as her own daughter refers to her) is not so great at confronting her problems so as soon as she encounters an issue (usually something to do with a man) she packs up and moves the girls to a new place.
This time around they go to Eastport, Massachusetts. Charlotte, whose inner monologue we follow in this film, is annoyed until she realises there is not only a convent up the hill, but a very handsome 25 year old caretaker there too. She soon becomes infatuated and is torn between her Catholic beliefs (her shield against her mother’s promiscuous nature catching on) and her hormones. Meanwhile. Mrs Flax gets into a relationship with Lou Lanksy, a local shoe salesman.
It was cute seeing the relationships develop but I felt there was just something squicky about Charlotte pursuing a man 10 years her senior. What made it more squicky for me was *spoilers* that this relationship moves beyond the one-sided crush to sex in the belltower. All the while this girl is 15. 15! I mean, the age of consent in the UK is 16 and s
he is too young but the guy could be forgiven for not realising, but in the US it is 18 so she is waaaay too young and very obviously so. I just didn’t like it.
So what was with the title? Well, at one point in the film, Mrs Flax dressed up as a mermaid for a New Year’s party and they all sit in a bath. And another point is that Lou redecorates a room for the girls, turning it into an undersea work of art. Also the Kate as a swimmer thing.
The twist was quite predictable, but I must say I was relieved that this was not as much of a tragedy as the direction it seemed to be going!
Books that appear in the film:
“Payton Place” (1956) by Grace Metalious – Mrs Flax (Cher) is reading this in the bath. I’d heard of it but not what it was about so when I looked it up and discovered it to also be set in New England, its presence made sense. It also had quite a scandalous reputation, much like Cher’s character.
“The Lives of the Saints” (1894) by Alban Butler – Charlotte (Winona Ryder) is reading a series of books about Saints. This one doesn’t appeal to me as much as the sexy drama book though!
“Mermaids” (1986) by Patty Dunn – the book on which this film was based! I will have to get a copy and read it, though I have heard it is different to and not as good as the film. i must see for myself!
I did enjoy watching this film, and it introduced me to at least one new book. The setting was pretty, there was some cool historical context in there (such as Kennedy’s assassination) and there were some genuinely likable characters such as Lou and little
Kate. Charlotte and Mrs Flax were a tad on the annoying and immature side, but it all worked out as a decent film in the end.
Still, I do sort of wish there was a real mermaid in there somewhere!