Recognition and Sympathy
“Mermaids” is a story told by a teenage girl whose mother avoids becoming known as the town tramp only because she changes towns so often. The mom in “Mermaids” goes by the name of Mrs. Flax, and is played by Cher with perfect makeup and a flawless body that seems a bit much to hope for, given the character’s lifestyle and diet. Mrs. Flax has a personality trait that leads her to look for and find love affairs with hopeless men that are doomed and then move to another town when her life falls apart. She is hardly and she and the other characters exhibit a tacky trait of consumerism that is exaggerated and out of proportion.
Mrs. Flax has two daughters; a teenager, Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and a grade-schooler, Kate (Christina Ricci). The movie opens with Kate practicing her swimming and trying to match the world record for holding her breath underwater. That supplies one of the movie’s many clues to the symbolism of its title, as well as suggesting the desperation Mrs. Flax inspires in her children. The older daughter, Charlotte, has been driven nearly mad by her mother’s incessant moves (18 by last count). She’s never gone long to the same school, or made many friends, or experienced much normal life. After another romantic disaster, the family moves again, to Massachusetts, where Charlotte makes friends with a young man named Joe (Michael Schoeffling), a kind of handyman job at a Roman Catholic convent. Charlotte is attracted to the nuns, to their quiet ways and cheerful encouragement, but she is more attracted to Joe, who perhaps possesses the secret of exactly what it is adults do when they’re alone (what her mother does with all those men, for example).
The director, Richard Benjamin, tells the story of a strange world in which the realistic and the bizarre exist side by side. Mrs. Flax’s life begins to change, however, in Massachusetts, after she is discovered by Lou (Bob Hoskins), a hefty, salt-of-the-earth type who sizes up the situation and decides that what Mrs. Flax and her daughters need is normality. He tries to contribute some balance to the family routine and has luck on the days when Mrs. Flax is not at war with him. Meanwhile Charlotte is kissed by Joe and becomes convinced that she is pregnant.
Suddenly I understood that as preposterous this movie is, I was enjoying just that. After all, we look at movies to learn lessons and see life reflected back at us. However, sometimes we simply sit there in the dark, amazed by the spectacle. “Mermaids” is not what I would call a good movie but it is fun and not boring.