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Left to right: Charlotte, Rachel, Kate, Lou.

"Charlotte, I know you're planning a celibate life, but with half my chromosomes, I think that might be tough."
Rachel Flax
"Mom Is Many Things. . .Normal Isn't One of Them."
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Mermaids is a 1990 dramedy directed by Richard Benjamin, starring Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder (who was nominated for a Golden Globe), and Christina Ricci (in her first film role). It is based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Patty Dann.

In the early 1960s, Rachel Flax (Cher) is what used to be called a "loose woman". She's also the mother of Charlotte (Ryder) and Kate (Ricci), who are forced to move from town to town to escape their mother's failed relationships. Defiantly sexy and nonmaternal, Mrs. Flax is a constant source of embarassment to the older Charlotte, who turns to prudish dress and behavior in reaction to her mother's reputation. Charlotte fantasizes about being a nun, and is thrilled when their move to Massachusetts puts them a stone's throw away from an actual convent. Yet proving to be even more thrilling is the handsome handyman Joe (Michael Schoeffling), who works for the nuns. Charlotte is terrified that her attraction to him means she'll turn out just like her mother.

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Meanwhile, her mother is having some problems of her own. The town's genial shoe salesman, Lou Landsky (Hoskins), seems good for a few laughs. Unfortunately, he digs his heels in and wants a real relationship with Rachel, and doesn't go away no matter how badly she behaves.

Interestingly, this movie was 110 minutes long and made $110 million, meaning that each minute of the film was worth exactly one million dollars.

Not to be confused with a 2003 film of the same name.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Your child not speaking to you (or not being able to speak to you about something important) and then stealing your car, driving off recklessly and disappearing somewhere not knowing if they're dead or alive. Rachel lampshades this to Charlotte during a fight.
    • The thought of your youngest child almost drowning and the other child you trusted doing something reckless instead when they were suppose to be watching their youngest sibling.
  • Age Lift: Charlotte was 14 in the novel, but is 15 in the film. Likewise, Joe is 29 in the novel and 26 in the film.
  • All Women Love Shoes
    Charlotte: I don't want any.
    Rachel: Don't be ridiculous, Charlotte. Every woman wants new shoes.
  • Alliterative Name: Lou Landsky qualifies.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Happens twice. First when Charlotte runs away, then when Kate almost drowns on Charlotte's watch. Rachel chews Charlotte out both times, more so the second time.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: After the fight between her and Charlotte.
    Rachel: If you hate living my life so much, why are you trying your damnedest to make the same mistakes?
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Charlotte gives one to her mother during a fight, leading to her mother slapping her.
    Rachel: Great story! What's your major, town tramp?!
    Charlotte: No, Mom, the town already has one!
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Rachel gives one to her daughter Charlotte following the above exchange.
  • Auto Erotica: Early in the film, we see a shot of Mrs. Flax and her boss in a car that's rocking while audible moans can be heard. We then see that they were just passionately making out, and it's likely that had Mrs. Flax not stopped, sex would've occurred.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: After seeing Rachel kiss Joe on New Year's eve, Charlotte gets drunk and dresses up in Rachel's clothes and makeup, feeling that this would help her look more appealing to Joe.
  • Betty and Veronica: Charlotte (the Betty) and her mother Rachel (the Veronica) over Joe (the Archie).
  • Big Eater: After Charlotte collapses due to malnutrition from fasting so many days, Rachel brings her two plates of cake and cookies.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The nuns who manage to save Kate from drowning.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lou and Rachel's relationship continues, Joe moves away to California but keeps in touch with Charlotte via postcards, Kate recovers from her near-drowning but is now partially deaf, Charlotte gains a reputation at her high school due to her sexual encounter with Joe and Charlotte and her mother, Rachel have a better understanding of one another as mother and daughter (not just friends) and the films ends as Charlotte, Rachel and Kate fix dinner together at the table which is something they've never done before.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Mrs. Flax fixes dinner and dessert for her daughters before her date with her boss. Kate is perplexed by the meal.
    Kate: What is this?
    Rachel: Cheese ball pick-me-ups, accompanied by miniature franks and for dessert, marshmallow kebabs.
    Charlotte: (narrating) A word about Mrs. Flax and food: the word is Hors d'oeuvres. Fun finger foods is her main source of work and that's all the woman cooks. And "anything more, she says, is too big a commitment."
  • But Now I Must Go: Joe leaves town and bids goodbye with Charlotte after everything that's happened.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Charlotte's first time having sex happens at the same time that Kate almost drowns.
  • Can't Spit It Out: Being unable to tell her mother that she thinks she's pregnant (from a kiss), Charlotte steals her mother's car and runs away.
  • Censor Suds: Seen in a bath scene with Mrs. Flax near the start of the film, with a clump of suds obscuring her breasts.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For Charlotte.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mr. Flax. Charlotte only has one memory of someone whom she thinks is him, though that's called into question by Rachel's claim that he left while she was in labor. However, Rachel confirms that he did come back to visit once when Charlotte was four, so it looks like Charlotte was correct.
  • The Film of the Book: As noted, this movie is based on a novel.
  • First-Person Smartass: Charlotte, serving as the film narrator.
  • Freudian Excuse: The conflict between Mrs. Flax and Charlotte is a driving force of the story.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Mrs. Flax. Somewhat justified in that Charlotte's 15 and Kate's somewhere between 7 and 10. Though Rachel is shown to be a pretty bad parent who treats her daughters more like friends than children. This comes back to bite her when Charlotte develops a crush on Joe and doesn't know how to handle it.
  • Hypocrite: After Charlotte runs away and Rachel and Lou fight about it, Rachel vows to pack up and leave herself if Charlotte returns. Lou calls her out on it.
    • Later, Rachel explains to Charlotte that running away isn't a solution and admits to uprooting the family from one place to the next whenever things go sideways.
    • During their blow-out argument at the end, Rachel slut-shames Charlotte. Charlotte angrily (and rather bluntly) retorts that Rachel really doesn't have any room to be throwing shade on that score. It earns her a good slap, but, well, frankly Charlotte's got a bit of a point there.
  • Indirect Kiss: "Now my lips are touching his," Charlotte narrates while drinking from Joe's thermos.
  • Informed Judaism: The Flaxes. As Charlotte notes, her mother doesn't believe in following any traditions.
  • Instant Seduction: After giving herself a makeover, Charlotte ascends to the church bell tower, looks at Joe and they immediately have sex.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Charlotte. First, she fears she's become pregnant from a kiss, and the fear results in her starving herself, stealing her mother's car, and running away to a "normal" family's house. Then things really go bad when she sees her mother kissing her love interest and Charlotte decides to wear her mother's clothes and makeup, get herself and her sister drunk from liquor and lose her virginity to her love interest during which her sister almost drowns. Things only get worst when her mother finds out, they fight and her mother suggests they move again while Charlotte gains a "reputation" at her high school.
  • Kids Driving Cars: Downplayed with Charlotte as she's only one year below the legal driving age. However, Rachel implies that she taught Charlotte to drive even before that.
  • Love at First Sight: Charlotte falls for Joe the first time she sees him, all set to "Johnny Angel".
  • Love Triangle: Briefly between Rachel, Joe and Charlotte.
  • Ma'am Shock: Rachel seems deeply offended when Joe addresses her as "ma'am" during their first encounter (especially since she was seemingly trying to flirt with him.)
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Charlotte and Joe consummate their attraction towards one another in the church's bell tower.
  • Meat-O-Vision: After religiously fasting for so many days, Charlotte collapses from malnutrition and begins to hallucinate her Virgin Mary statue having a big pregnant belly.
  • Miss Conception: Charlotte thinks she gets pregnant from kissing. Apparently she's learned nothing from being around Mrs. Flax.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Upon first meeting, Rachel attempts to flirt with her 26-year-old new neighbor Joe. After being given a ride home from the New Year's Eve party due to car trouble (and a spat with Lou), Rachel kisses Joe. Charlotte sees this from the window and is not happy about it Because she is interested in Joe and upset that her mother is attempting to "steal" him.
  • Nice Guy: Lou is probably the nicest adult in the movie, quick to dote on the girls as though they'd always been his daughters and not hesitating to help find Charlotte when she runs away. And judging by the end, it seems as though Mrs. Flax finally gives into the idea of a long-term relationship with him.
  • Nonindicative Name: Don't go into this movie expecting it to be about mermaids. The closest thing the film gets referenced to the title is Rachel's new year's eve costume as a mermaid and Kate's swimming profession.
  • Not So Different: Despite hating her mother and resenting her lifestyle, Charlotte becomes a lot like her mother Rachel after losing her virginity to Joe and gaining a reputation in town.
  • Oh, Crap!: Charlotte, when her mother arrives at the hospital, sees her with Joe and figures out what has happened.
  • Olympic Swimmer: Kate aspires to be one, just like her father.
  • Percussive Therapy: During their big fight at the end, Rachel slaps Charlotte and is much calmer afterwards.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Throughout the film, Charlotte and Rachel fail to communicate with one another about many issues (relocation, love and relationships, teen pregnancy, ect.). Only after their mother-daughter fight do they both calm down and discuss their problems leading to a better understanding of one another.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Kate is a professional swimmer. But due to being drunk, Kate is unable to swim and almost drowns.
    • Although Kate survives near-drowning, the accident has affected her hearing and left her partially deaf.
    • After having sex, the controversy surrounding Joe and Charlotte due to their ages (26-years-old and 15-years-old) causes Joe to have to relocate to another state. And possibly be registered as a sex offender. While Charlotte gains a sexual reputation at her school.
    • After being unable to confide in her mother about her fears, Charlotte steals her mother's car and takes off to a "normal" family's home. Even though Charlotte lies about her name and family history, the father contacts the police and they identify the licensed car parked outside the family's residential home. They then contact Rachel and inform her of Charlotte's whereabouts, with Lou going to get her.
    • After religiously fasting for so many days, Charlotte ends up passing out due to malnutrition.
  • Really Gets Around: Mrs. Flax. The Flaxs move frequently as a result of Mrs. Flax escaping her failed relationships, and at the start of the film Charlotte says that they've moved 18 times.
    Mrs. Flax: Okay, how do I look?
    Charlotte: Like a woman about to go forth in sin.
    Mrs. Flax: Oh good, exactly the look I was hoping for.
  • Right Through His Pants: Charlotte and Joe keep all their clothes on when they have sex for the first time.
  • Scare Chord: Happens when Charlotte kisses Joe in the church bell tower and she sees the angel statues looking down upon her.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: After Kate almost drowns, Rachel packs a suitcase for Kate and almost leaves only for Charlotte to come yelling back at her. Then Rachel says they should all pack up and move altogether to avoid the town talking about Joe and Charlotte.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    Mrs. Flax: We're gonna play my favorite game: "who's the worst mother in the world?" Oh now, don't tell me, let me guess, who could it be? Could it be — ME?
  • Sex Changes Everything: After having sex in the bell tower, Charlotte says things are different now between her and Joe and he leaves for California. For reasons implied due to the townpeople talking about him and Charlotte together (he's 26 and she is 15), he would be tried as a sex offender.
    Charlotte: You look different.
    Joe: You look beautiful.
  • Sex Equals Love: Invoked by Charlotte. After the fight, Charlotte tells her mom she had sex with Joe because she thought she loved him and she thought her mom was trying to steal him away from her.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Charlotte, who has feelings of lust over Joe but feels she must keep from acting on such thoughts due to her wanting to become a nun. She ultimately does have sex with Joe.
  • Shout-Out: At the gynecologists office, Charlotte's fake name she picks out for herself at the office is "Joan Arc".
  • Shower of Angst: Charlotte scrubs herself clean after kissing Joe in the bell tower and believing she sinned. She does it again after Kate almost drowned while she was having sex with Joe.
  • Slut-Shaming: Charlotte slut-shames her mother for sleeping and flirting with countless men and moving the family across states because the affairs ended badly. Rachel slut-shames Charlotte because her having sex with Joe almost got Kate killed.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Rachel remains quiet up until she goes inside the house to collect Kate's things and then Charlotte gives her a fish book.
  • The '60s: The film begins in early fall 1963 and ends the following spring.
  • Title Drop: When Rachel shows off her New Year's Eve costume to her daughters before the party.
    Rachel: Ta-Da!
    Kate: You're a mermaid!
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Narrowly Averted. Kate almost dies because Charlotte was having sex with Joe instead of watching her.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior:
    • When getting drunk on her mom's booze, Charlotte allows Kate to have one drink but when her back is turned, Kate has more than one drink. Enough to make herself drunk. It's played for laughs up until Kate nearly drowns.
    • Rachel reveals to Joe that Charlotte licked yellow chalk off a board in school when she was a child because she read in a book that a saint had visions from God after licking chalk. This behavior caused the previous school to become concerned about Charlotte's well-being, leading Rachel to pack up and move her family.
  • Vague Age: Charlotte is 15, but Kate's age is never stated. She looks to be somewhere between 7 and 10. (Christina Ricci was 10 at the time).
  • Wacky Parent, Serious Child: Rachel is the eccentric mother of two while her oldest daughter Charlotte is the most serious one.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Rachel chews Charlotte out for her actions leading to Kate almost drowning.
    Rachel: (suddenly yelling) What the hell you were thinking?! She could've died! Your sister, who you should've been looking after! What the hell was she doing out there? What the hell were you doing out there—? Oh, I know what you were doing out there. The whole goddamn town knows what you were doing!
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Averted. In the opening monologue Charlotte narrates how she originally wanted to name her sister Kate after Saint Gobnait the virgin beekeeper but Rachel decided against it and named her Kate instead.
    Charlotte: (narrating) I wanted to name her after Saint Gobnait the virgin beekeeper but our mother, Mrs. Flax, thought I was a little peculiar.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: As Lou begins to date Rachel, he asks her who is Kate's father out of curiosity. 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 a one night stand with a competitive swimmer who claimed to be Olympic material.
  • World of Snark: Even little Kate can snark with the best of them.
    Kate (to Charlotte, who's prancing around in their mother's clothes and makeup): Act your age, not your shoe size.
  • You Are What You Hate: Despite her many attempts not to make the same mistakes, Charlotte ends up becoming exactly like her mother Rachel.
  • Your Cheating Heart: At the beginning of the film, Rachel has a passionate fling with her boss only to learn he is married when he breaks up with her and won't take her on his business trip because he's taking his wife. This prompts her to pack up and move again as Charlotte narrates.
    Rachel (breathing heavily) Wait a minute, wait a minute. So you're telling me, that not only am I not going with you on this business trip, you're taking another woman?
    Rachel's boss: (breathing heavily) Honey, she's not just some other woman. She's my wife.
    • After having a fight with Lou, Rachel kisses Joe after being given a ride home. Charlotte sees this and is furious because she loves Joe.


 
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Charlotte's Pregnancy Scare

15-year-old religious prude Charlotte Flax fears she has become pregnant from kissing a man. Much embarrassment is about to ensue.

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