Mermaids (1990 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Benjamin
Produced by Lauren Lloyd
Wallis Nicita
Patrick J. Palmer
Suzanne Rothbaum
Written by Patty Dann (book)
June Roberts (screenplay)
Starring Cher
Bob Hoskins
Winona Ryder
Christina Ricci
Music by Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography Howard Atherton
Edited by Jacqueline Cambas
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release dates
  • December 14, 1990 (1990-12-14)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $31 million[1]
Box office $35,419,397[1]

Mermaids is a 1990 American comedy-drama film directed by Richard Benjamin and starring Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder (who was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best supporting actress for her role), and Christina Ricci in her first film role. It is based on the 1986 novel of the same title written by Patty Dann. It was shot in and around the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts and Pawtucket, Rhode Island.


The film is narrated by Charlotte Flax, a 15-year-old girl living in Oklahoma with her glamorous but eccentric mother, Rachel (whom she calls "Mrs. Flax"), and 9-year-old sister, Kate, who calls her by her given name. The narration begins in early fall 1963, just as Rachel's latest fling with her married employer ends and she decides to relocate once again. This time, they move to a new home near a convent in the small town of Eastport, Massachusetts. Charlotte has an obsession with Catholicism and idolizes the nuns living in the convent. She is always reminded by Rachel that they are Jewish. Kate, on the other hand, loves oceans and swimming. She apparently learned to do so when she was a baby, allowing her to win many competitions.

In Eastport, Charlotte becomes especially interested in Joe, the 26-year-old handsome caretaker of the convent and local school bus driver while Rachel falls in love with a local shop owner named Lou Landsky. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Charlotte comforts Joe in mourning and they end up kissing in the bell tower where he rings the church bell. After the encounter, she begins fasting in order to purge her sinful thoughts. Soon fearing that God may be punishing her by making her pregnant (and unable to talk to her mother about it), she steals Rachel's car and runs away. She stops at the house of a "nuclear perfect family" in Connecticut asking to spend the night, tells them her name is Sal Val, and other wild stories (which they don't seem to completely believe). Later on, she is picked up by Lou and taken home. Upon returning home, Charlotte receives a harsh scolding from Rachel who calms down after drinking Scotch liquor and tells Charlotte that she was worried sick about her safety and, thinking that it's her fault that Charlotte ran away from home, admits that even though she's not an expert in her parenting, she's willing to compromise and try her best to take care of both Charlotte and Kate. The next day, Charlotte makes an appointment at the nearest hospital, where she goes to see an obstetrician and is told she is still a virgin. Relieved, she goes home, dispelled of her assumption that "one kiss can get you pregnant".

At a New Year's costume party, Lou asks Rachel to move in with him but she declines, reminding him that they're still married to different spouses and not willing to break up with him nor let their relationship progress, and they have a big fight. Rachel then asks Joe for a ride home after which she wishes him a happy new year and kisses him. Charlotte sees this and feels that her mother is trying to steal him away. The night after the incident, Charlotte dresses up in Rachel's clothes and makeup and she and Kate get drunk on wine. She then takes her to the convent to see Joe. Kate decides to stay behind and collect rocks while Charlotte goes up to the bell tower to find Joe and ends up losing her virginity to him. Unbeknownst to them, Kate falls into a river and almost drowns, but is saved by the nuns. Rachel is very angry at the turn of events and she and Charlotte have a big fight, later deciding to move again to avoid embarrassment as the whole town is talking about Charlotte and Joe. However, Charlotte convinces her to stay there at least for another year.

Rachel stays behind and her relationship with Lou progresses. Joe moves to California but keeps in touch with Charlotte via postcards, while she gains a reputation in high school and takes Greek myths as her new passion (even though Rachel reminds her she's not Greek). Kate recovers from nearly drowning although the accident left her hearing sounding fuzzy, and the film ends with all three of them setting the table for dinner (something they never did before Lou came into their lives) and dancing.



The role of Charlotte was initially cast with Emily Lloyd. She had begun shooting the film when Cher supposedly made a complaint that she couldn’t play her daughter because she was too fair haired and Winona Ryder replaced her. This statement would be rather ironic given that all of Cher's real life children are blond/fair.[2]

Lloyd sued Orion Pictures Corporation and Mermaid Productions, reaching a settlement on the second day of the trial, 30 July 1991.[3][4][5]

This was to have been the American film debut for director Lasse Hallström until he allegedly repeatedly clashed with Cher and was replaced first by Frank Oz and then by Richard Benjamin.[6][7]

Boston television cowboy Rex Trailer had a minor but memorable role in the film as the obstetrician who tells Charlotte, "Whatever gave you the idea that you were pregnant? You're still a virgin!"[8]

Critical response

The film currently holds a rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes indicating largely positive reviews.[9]

Time Out New York wrote; ‘The film is burdened by curious details and observations, and its preoccupation with all things aquatic (little sister is an ace swimmer, Mom dresses up as a mermaid for New Year's Eve, etc.) is overworked. Characterisation suffers, with Charlotte and Rachel too self-absorbed to engage our sympathies. Crucially, they just aren't funny’.[10]

Vincent Canby from the New York Times wrote; "Mermaids, adapted by the English writer June Roberts from the novel by Patty Dann, is a terribly gentle if wisecracking comedy about the serious business of growing up."[11]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Mermaids - PowerGrid". Retrieved August 23, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Parkinson interviews Cher". Retrieved 2012-12-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Kleid, Beth (28 December 1990). "Legal File". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "A summary of Southern California-related business litigation developments during the past week". Los Angeles Times. 31 December 1990. Retrieved 6 November 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. MacMinn, Aleene (1 August 1991). "Movies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Yglesias, Linda (17 December 1990). "Getting Along Swimmingly: For `Mermaids,` Cher And Ryder Got To Be A Dynamic Duo". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 6 November 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Hinson, Hal (14 December 1990). "Mermaids". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 November 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Rex Trailer : the Boomtown years by Shirley Kawa-Jump Publisher: N. Attleborough, Mass : Covered Bridge Press, 1997. ISBN 0-924771-98-4, ISBN 978-0-924771-98-9
  9. "Rotten Tomatoes Review". Rotten Tomatoes Website. Retrieved 24 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Time Out New York". Time Out New York. 14 December 1990. Retrieved 26 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "New York Times Review". New York Times. 14 December 1990. Retrieved 26 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]

External links