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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 name written by Patty Dann. It was shot in and around the towns of Rockport, Gloucester, Ipswich, Lincoln and Pawtucket.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Benjamin
Produced by
  • Lauren Lloyd
  • Wallis Nicita
  • Patrick J. Palmer
  • Suzanne Rothbaum
Written byJune Roberts
Based onMermaids
by Patty Dann
Music byJack Nitzsche
CinematographyHoward Atherton
Edited byJacqueline Cambas
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • December 14, 1990 (1990-12-14)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[1]
Box office$35.4 million[2]



The film is narrated by Charlotte Flax, a quirky and awkward 15-year-old girl living in Oklahoma with her single, eccentric mother, Rachel (whom she calls "Mrs. Flax"), and her sweet 9-year-old sister, Kate. The girls have different fathers—Charlotte is a product of a teenage romance and a shotgun marriage that only lasted about a year and Kate is from an affair with an athlete.

The narration begins in early fall 1963. Just as Rachel's latest fling with her married employer ends, she decides to relocate with Charlotte and Kate once again. This time, they move to a new home near a convent in the small town of Eastport, Massachusetts, where Rachel gets a job as a secretary for a local insurance adjuster. Charlotte has an unusual obsession with Catholicism, with Rachel's strong disapproval and reminder that they are Jewish. She also idolizes the nuns living in the convent. Kate, on the other hand, loves all things swimming and is an avid competitor, apparently getting it from Rachel's Olympic one night stand from which she was conceived.

Charlotte becomes especially interested in Joe Poretti, 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 finds Joe ringing the convent bell and consoles him. However, they begin to kiss and feeling filled with sin she flees. After the encounter, she begins fasting in order to purge her sinful thoughts, but eventually passes out from hunger and the fear of immaculate conception and starts eating again.

Soon fearing that God may be punishing through pregnancy and unable to talk to Rachel about it, Charlotte steals her car and runs away. She stops at the house of a "perfect nuclear family" in New Haven, Connecticut, asking to spend the night with them, telling 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 after the family reports her, where she immediately receives a harsh scolding from Rachel believing she could have been murdered.

When Rachel calms down, she tells Charlotte that she was worried sick about her safety, and, thinking that it's her fault that she ran away, admits that even though she's not an expert in parenting, she's willing to compromise and try her best to take care of her and Kate. The next day, she makes an appointment at the nearest clinic under the name Joan Arc, where she sees an obstetrician and is told she is still a virgin and therefore can't be pregnant. Relieved, she goes home, dispelled of her assumption that "one kiss can get you pregnant".

At a New Year's Eve costume party sometime after a large fight with Lou, he asks Rachel to marry/move in with him but she declines both, reminding him that he's still married. However, she's not willing to break up with him nor let their relationship progress either. This ends with him calmly leaving in disappointment. She then asks Joe for a ride home, before she wishes him a happy New Year and kisses him. Charlotte sees this and feels that she is trying to steal him away.

The night after the incident, Charlotte dresses up in Rachel's clothes and makeup in an attempt to show that she can be just as appealing as her. She and Kate get drunk on Rachel's jug wine and talk on the porch about Kate's birth. Hearing the convent bell ringing, Charlotte then takes Kate there and tells her that she'll be back. Kate decides to drunkenly collect rocks while Charlotte goes up to the bell tower to find Joe, where they have sex. Unbeknownst to them, Kate falls into a river and almost drowns due to her inebriation, but is saved by the nuns and taken to the hospital.

Outraged at the turn of events, Rachel and Charlotte argue, ending with Rachel slapping Charlotte across the face. This finally leads to them understanding each other as mother and daughter and not just friends. Charlotte convinces Rachel to stay in Eastport for at least another year.

Time passes and Rachel's relationship with Lou continues. Joe moves to California and opens up a plant nursery, but keeps in touch with Charlotte via postcards. She, in turn, has gained a reputation in high school due to her sexual encounter with him and replaces her Catholicism obsession with Greek mythology and a less conservative outlook; Rachel now reminds her that they are not Greek. Kate, having recovered, is swimming again, although the accident has left her hearing sometimes "sounding fuzzy". The film ends with the three of them dancing while setting the table for dinner.



The role of Charlotte was initially cast with Emily Lloyd. She had begun shooting the film when Cher complained that Lloyd did not look enough like her to play her daughter. The part ended up being given to Winona Ryder instead. Cher and Oz had both been impressed with Ryder's performance in the movie Heathers and wanted to cast her in the film. Lloyd sued Orion Pictures Corporation and Mermaid Productions for breach of contract and received US$175,000 in damages; reaching a settlement on the second day of the trial, 30 July 1991.[3][4][5][6]

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.[7][8]

Critical responseEdit

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]



  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Arnold, Ben (July 27, 2016). "Emily Lloyd: The Unluckiest Actress In Hollywood History?". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  4. ^ Kleid, Beth (28 December 1990). "Legal File". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  5. ^ "A summary of Southern California-related business litigation developments during the past week". Los Angeles Times. 31 December 1990. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  6. ^ MacMinn, Aleene (1 August 1991). "Movies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Hinson, Hal (14 December 1990). "Mermaids". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes Review". Rotten Tomatoes Website. Retrieved 8 Aug 2016.
  10. ^ "Time Out New York". Time Out New York. 14 December 1990. Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2010.
  11. ^ "New York Times Review". New York Times. 14 December 1990. Retrieved 26 June 2010.[dead link]

External linksEdit