Mermaids (1990) review

Rated: 3/5

“Sometimes I feel like you’re the child and I’m the grown up.”

“You know, sometimes being a mother really stinks. I don’t always know what I’m doing. It’s not like you and your sister came with a book of instructions. You know, if I can help you, tell me. I’ll give it my best shot, but it’s all I can do.”

“Are we having a fight!?”
“Yeah!”
“Why!?”
“It relieves the tension!”

So here I am watching movies as I usually do, trying to find something that I am able to talk about at length on this blog site. So I initially wanted to go out and see Wind River, but none of the fucking theaters within a 20 mile radius of where I live are showing it. So I watch a few movies from the 90s, since I’m prepping for an epic nostalgia for the 90s series on this site. Some of them were bad, others were good, some were mediocre; none of them had me thinking about it afterwards. Then along comes this little chick flick which appears to be fun family entertainment at the surface, with some mature themes thrown in here and there. Initially, I didn’t think much of it other than emotional manipulation (which worked on me, big time; this fucking movie) and some good acting and a few witty one liners. But moments in the film stuck with me afterwards. That and I’m also desperate for an outlet, with my mind racing a mile-a-minute in a not-so-constructive manner, making me practically needing an edible to calm myself down and slow my racing brain so I can actually focus on what’s in front of me, and stay focused. So what I’m trying to say is that I watched this film high while procrastinating for most of the week.

So first, the title of this film. The mother (played by Cher) dresses up as one at one point, going to a party she isn’t fully comfortable with for the sake of intermingling. Then there’s the youngest daughter who is a good swimmer, and can hold her breathe underwater for a long time. And the oldest daughter Charlotte (the Harlot), played by Winona Ryder, well, she’s tries to be overly religious, often with comedic results, and I’m not entirely sure what she has to do with mermaids outside of some metaphorical/thematic level that only some artistic film connoisseur motherfucker who watches French films and Shakespeare while drinking thousand dollar wine all the time would be able to get. Either that or some half-assed critic like me who will just take a wild guess as to the meaning.

This family of 3 moves around often, mainly because of the mother who sleeps around with guys, and moves away before she can get a bad reputation or suffer humiliation in the town she was in. There are other reasons she does this, the main one being she fears emotional attachment, because she has been hurt too much from breakups of the past. So she’s unwilling to make a commitment unless it’s some 100% guarantee that it will work out, which has never ever been the case for anyone.

Then there’s the main protagonist, Winona Ryder, who dislikes her mother at times and has to put up with her antics. One of her ways of trying to cope is by seeking Catholicism (though Cher make’s the quip, “We’re Jewish.”) Yet she winds up being like her mother (and not very Catholic) in several situations, especially when she gets a crush on a boy and can’t stop fantasizing about him. Basically she wants to escape her life, escape her family, to live her own. You know, like in that movie The Little Mermaid, based on the story where a mermaid wishes to do the same thing, except things don’t turn out that well for her by the end, because Disney doesn’t like sad depressing endings.

There’s the young daughter, of course, played by Christina Ricci, but she is more of a plot device that will be utilized during the last quarter of the film. Until then, she’s there to build sentiment as part of the family. This film is never blunt or obvious about this, but it slowly works its hooks into you. This mainly works because of the family dynamic, how they seem like a real family. Also helps to have Bob Hopskins play a fun character who starts a relationship with Cher. The film also shows the good and the bad with Cher and Ryder’s character, which is fitting because they’re the main focus, the main ones who have a character arc.

But anyway, all this is a build-up to this scene that successfully does what most slasher films wish they could do. They make a sex scene disturbing and emotionally scarring. Yes, Ryder and the one she fauns over have sex atop a bell tower. No, some mutated/psycho/demon killer doesn’t show up to butcher them while they’re doing it. No, this film is far more devious than that.

So let me set it up for you. So the youngest sister (I’ll just call her Ricci) gets drunk before she goes with Ryder to the bell tower. While Ryder is up there getting shown the old in-out in-out, Ricci wanders around drunkenly until she falls into a river. So it intercuts between her drowning, and Ryder having sex. It’s at this point that I started to feel a bit sick to my stomach, and feel like I’ve just been conditioned to never want sex at all in my life. And all it took was some comedy/drama (heavy emphasis on the drama during the last quarter of the film) chick-flick rated PG-13 to do it, rather than a slasher/horror flick.

So first I should say that I was stunned, disturbed, saddened, and hooked. Because the film accomplished its task of making me feel for each member of the family, that the loss of one would be a huge blow to the family dynamic, one in which it may never recover from should it receive such a blow. And this, of course, leads to the big dramatic moment of the film where Ryder gets in an argument with Cher. The big moment where Cher finally lets her guard down, is willing to be real with her daughter, and showcases that vulnerability she refused to let out throughout the rest of the runtime. Thus giving hope that it’s possible she may come around in the future. At the same time, she’s finally able to talk with her daughter without putting up a barrier of judgement and condemnation (even if she does condemn her daughter for what she inadvertently ended up doing to the youngest daughter). She talks about how she didn’t want Ryder to end up like her, yet the path she is leading causes her to do so anyway, the irony of it all being that the mother’s actions of the past and present drive her daughter into being as she is now. To the point where she makes out with the boy Ryder has a crush on, making her even more desperate to want to have sex with him before her mother steals him away from her. It makes me wonder what Cher’s mother was like.

And then the family is shown to be all happy and together again after the whole endeavor. And tears of joy were running down my cheeks. Cut to a few minutes later after the credits were done rolling, and I felt manipulated. I wanted to hate this movie for bringing me to this state. But it is so well made with the character interactions, the sharp witty one-liners, the memorable characters, the comical situations, a couple dramatic moments prior to the big one, the theme of how lack of communication and openness of willing to put your faith in others and become emotionally vulnerable at the risk of being hurt (though the consequences can be even worse if you live your life never being open), that… Goddammit, fuck this movie!

PS: Oh, right, and Ryder broke up with her boyfriend she just got laid by soon after the tragic event. Gee, I wonder why the fuck that is?

PPS: Oh yeah, did I mention spoilers? Well there’s you’re fucking spoilers. If I can get emotionally traumatized from a scene in this movie and live through it, you can suffer being emotionally traumatized by having a major scene spoiled for you in this movie.

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