Pros: great characters, nostalgic, music, scenery
Cons: family-oriented but not really appropriate for kids
When I first heard of the movie Mermaids, I suspected it was something along the lines of Splash, the Tom Hanks comedy about a man who unwittingly falls in love with a mermaid. However, actual mermaids have little to do with this drama that stars Cher, a teenage Winona Ryder and a nine-year-old Christina Ricci as a free-spirited Jewish single mom and her two daughters.
Cher is Rachel Flax, who eccentricity, promiscuity and fear of commitment have led her to pick up and move every few months. This has led to a very unsettled life for Charlotte, whose teenage rebellion manifests itself in her yearning for normalcy and her obsession with Catholicism, and Kate, a sweet-natured child who is fairly content to go with the flow. The mermaid part comes in mostly with Kate, as she is an excellent swimmer, and Rachel attends a costume party dressed as a mermaid. Charlotte, meanwhile, has a habit of taking frequent showers to cleanse herself of the sins she believes she has committed.
Charlotte is our central character, the one through whom we see the events of the movie unfold, thanks in part to Ryders poetic voiceovers. She is intense as only a teenage girl can be, and while she is very hard on herself whenever she exhibits unsaintly behavior, her true frustration is with her mother, who refuses to accept responsibility for any of her actions and becomes violently angry when anyone tries to call her on it.
The movie begins with them moving to yet another new town, and this time, Charlotte is delighted to find that their house is next to a beautiful old abbey populated with nuns. This quickly becomes her favorite retreat. She is more conflicted about its bell-ringer, a handsome young man named Joe (Michael Schoeffling), since she develops an enormous crush on him but feels deeply guilty about it. The relationship that develops between them is a bit squirmy since she is well below adulthood and he is in his mid-20s, but she is so ardent and he is so sweet that its hard to fault them too much, except in one circumstance when their actions endanger someone else.
The 1960s setting gives the film a refreshing flavor, making Charlottes naivety feel more in step with the times, while the Kennedy assassination serves as a major catalyst for the characters. The decade also is the reason for Chers rendition The Shoop Shoop Song, which plays over the credits and eventually became one of her biggest hits. As the 60s is my favorite period of the 20th century, I was excited to realize that it was set then instead of in 1990.
Ricci is simply adorable in her role and brings sunshine to nearly all of her scenes, while Ryder is moody but still very likable. Equally appealing is Lou, the down-to-earth, almost-divorced man who pursues a relationship with Rachel. His decency and kindness, especially to the girls, is commendable, while his desire for some measure of commitment makes Rachel extremely uncomfortable. While she is a fun character, theres a self-absorption about her that is a turn-off, particularly since it so adversely affects her daughters on several occasions.
Ultimately, this is a sweet story about an unconventional family trying to make it together. The sweetness of the bonds between these three gals and the man who wants to become a permanent part of their lives makes Mermaids a tender film, while the issues it raises make it an especially good pick for teenage girls to watch with their mothers. It serves as a nice reminder that there is always room for forgiveness and growth in a family, no matter how grievous past mistakes have been.