Director: Richard Benjamin
Screenplay: June Roberts (from the novel of Patty Dan)
“Mermaids” is a film about a family of three: mom and two girls, who is constantly moving from town to town. Mrs Rachel Flax is a woman who faces her problems (most of them love related) by literally running away from them. This has an impact on her daughters, of course, especially Charlotte, 15 years old, the main character. We see the whole movie through her point of view, since she’s the narrator and often is telling us her thoughts at the moment of each scene. Charlotte is a more complicated girl than she seems: she’s a religious fanatic, the complete opposite of her mother. At one point we are told she had mental problems )and that was a reason for one of the family’s many transitions, because Rachel didn’t want to deal with it). Her mother is a beautiful eccentric (well, not that eccentric I would say, she just likes to look good that’s all… isn’t it?) woman who likes to have fun and has little patience for cooking, so they’re always eating candy or sandwiches (shaped like stars). Although Charlotte seems to hate her mother (she refers to her as Mrs Flax, not “mom” or “mother” or wtv), but Rachel doesn’t have any malice in her. Yes, she may seem selfish, always on the run with her kids, but as she herself says, kids don’t come with an instruction’s manual and she does the best she can. I like her character a lot. Her youngest daughter, Kate, is an excellent swimmer who’s always in her world, always training to be better and she’s never sad or annoyed like her sister. Charlotte is often mocked by her mother because of her exaggerate (just my opinion) praying. For a fifteen year old she should be starting to think about boys, fashion and stuff like that, like her school mates, but instead, she dreams of becoming a nun. And when they move to their new home, in Eastport, Massachusetts, she petrifies when seeing a pair of nuns at the shoe store! Also, she they meet Joe, a young handsome guy who works in the town’s convent, and her thoughts start to betray her beliefs. Charlotte falls for Joe and starts a “mental fight” not to think dirty things about or with him! I guess I can say that Charlotte is also in her own world all the time, she doesn’t even talk to her mother, unless to scold her on her looks or things like that.
In the meantime, Rachel also meets a guy: the shoe store owner, Lou, who turns out to be very sweet and also likes to have fun. He and Rachel get along very well, although one can see, almost in the end, how Rachel is afraid of commitment and, I think, uses Lou’s kindness for her daughter as an excuse to her fear, for she says that if Lou wants to get to her do it directly, not through her daughters. I think it’s clear the guy was just being himself, he was not trying to get to her through her daughters at all, he didn’t need to! This happens in a scene where they are all having dinner together, which is a thing the three girls don’t do, it’s just not a costume in the family, and Lou find it a bit of, but never criticizes them. So they are having dinner, all happy, even Charlotte, and Rachel starts staring at all that, the food, the talking (Charlotte never talks, but now she does!) and starts to feel either bored or frightened or both. She asks “what is this?”, and Lou responds by saying “it’s what families do”. So Rachel has that talk with him and is already thinking of moving again… But they all end up staying in Eastport.
Charlotte also has hopes of meeting her father, whom she never saw. She thinks the man will save her from that family she hates. I think her father and God are almost at the same level here: she thinks of an imaginary person to save her (please don’t get offended if you’re religious, I’m not). Her mother keeps telling her father isn’t worth it, but obviously Charlotte doesn’t listen to Rachel. Although her mother rolls her eyes to Charlotte’s praying, she never complains to her about them.
Charlotte gets very awkward in Joe’s presence. She basically invites herself to go out with him and then, while at it, she’s always thinking of having sex with him, although he’s not that interested. There’s one scene where she trips and falls in her arms and licks her jacket (without him noticing it)! That’s how desperate this girl is! And how confused! I don’t think she’s bad either, but sometimes she can be mean, and for all the things she thinks and does, one can see how she has to let everything flow and get rid of the fork she has stuck up her butt! Eventually she does.
As the film goes on, Charlotte eventually kisses Joe at the convent’s bell tower, while simultaneously staring at the saints statues and pictures’ disapproved faces, ending up by literally running away from that place (lol). Having no knowledge of how babies are made, she starts thinking she’s pregnant, just like the virgin Mary. This is another proof of how self-centered she his. I don’t want to use the word disturbed because, well, she’s just fifteen and it’s the 60’s, I wouldn’t blame her for thinking she was pregnant, although it’s funny. I think all fifteen year old girls are self centered, it’s supposed to be like that at that age I guess, it’s the time where we start searching for ourselves. The girl is only confused, the hormones are kicking in and her mother isn’t exactly instilling much discipline or stability on her. Plus, she doesn’t have a fatherly figure. So she’s holding onto Joe like a crab! To redeem herself she starts fasting, and even runs away from home, in her mother’s car (which makes Rachel mad) and infiltrates herself in a “perfect happy family”, with a father, a mother, and two kids. She gives a fake name and even has lunch with them. Eventually Lou appears and takes her home. This whole episode made me think she could even be borderline, not that I know much of the disease, but she seems to be having an outbreak and seems to be confusing reality with fantasy, because of the comparison with Virgin Mary and her attitude while at those strangers’ house. She’s all happy, very talkative and very light headed. Anyway, she ends up going to a doctor who tells her she’s a virgin and it’s impossible for her to be pregnant, which was a relief.
Later on Rachel is invited to the new year’s eve costume party (to where she goes as a mermaid) with the rest of “adults” of Charlotte’s school, along with Lou. When coming home, she asks Joe, who goes there too for some reason, to help her with her car. When arriving, she kisses Joe on the mouth. Charlotte catches them and immediately runs outside screaming at her mother and Joe, saying Rachel kisses everyone and it doesn’t mean she likes him. This is a time where Rachel is having some problems with Lou, as I already said, so she must have been a bit more fragile, moreover, they had had a fight about Rachel not wanting to live together with him. Anyway, Charlotte thinks her mother is stealing her loved one. Later, as a revenge, she puts on her clothes and makeup and goes with Kate to show her the convent, after the two drink some wine, so they’re a bit dizzy at this moment. While at the convent’s surroundings, Charlotte goes to the bell tower, leaving Kate alone near a stream, where she goes to pick rocks. At the bell tower, she finds Joe and loses her virginity there, while her sister falls into the water and drowns almost to death. Luckily the nuns were nearby and save her.
At the hospital, Rachel sends Charlotte home and tells her to wait for news. She’s really pissed with her and when she goes home to get some clothes, the two have a big fight. One can see Rachel might be all about having fun but never would’ve neglected her child, while Charlotte, in her selfishness, forgot about her little sister just to have sex. Anyway, no one can throw the first stone here and the two end up making up. Charlotte has many problems in her head, but as I said, she’s only fifteen and it’s normal to do foolish things. Well, in this case was too much, I know… But Charlotte’s Rachel daughter too and deserves more of her comprehension and attention. In the end, all ends well though. Joe leaves town but continues contacting Charlotte trough postcards, Rachel stays, deciding to give life a chance, Charlotte gets a new passion – Greek mythology – and a new look, leaving behind her “puritan” clothes and wearing beautiful ones, like her mother’s (and learned to face her mother’s attitudes, back in the great fight scene she had with Rachel), Kate recovers well and Lou lives happily with the three of the girls. It’s a happy ending for a once troubled family.
I personally like this movie a lot, it has a great cast (Cher is nothing but a mermaid actually!) and the story is more complex than it appears to be, approaching psychological issues, which I find very interesting to study. Plus, it’s a 90’s movie, which makes me like it more I guess, I like that kind of image. What about you?