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Stream Slate #65: Mermaids


by Courtney Duckworth

Mermaids is available to watch on virtually every random fictitious-sounding free streaming platform you never heard of before COVID-19: Roku, Vudu, Tubi, Hoopla, Pluto. Go nuts! (We at Stream Slate are Tubi/Pluto heads.)

This piece originally ran August 27, 2018. We are re-publishing in celebration of Cher's birthday today.
Read on our website

Richard Benjamin's Mermaids is the sort of endlessly quotable '90s family dramedy that a young girl (say, me) could catch on cable to glimpse an avatar of teen angst: the surly teen and wannabe nun Charlotte Flax (Winona Ryder). Like a refraction of Ryder icons Lydia Deetz and Veronica Sawyer, the self-serious Charlotte wears demure, buttoned-up black dresses as she pages through her embossed copy of The Lives of the Saints or kneels in prayer before ceramic nativity figurines (sometimes fudging the Latin: one hears "plutonium" and "potassium" among her invocations).

Meanwhile, her mother, a bouffant Cher with a va-va-voom walk and an endless closet of risqué polka-dot wiggle dresses, raises hell in her native 1960s with another daughter, Kate (a chubby-cheeked Christina Ricci), from another father (absent, of course). Mrs. Flax, as Charlotte calls her in a dour voiceover, flees from town to town the second the claws of disappointing men threaten to encircle her. When the film begins, the trio have just hit the road from Oklahoma to Eastport, Massachusetts, after Mrs. Flax discovers mid-coitus that her boss is bedding another woman: his wife. "Moving on" can be as simple as closing one's eyes and placing a manicured finger on the map.

Make no mistake: Despite shop owner Lou (Bob Hoskins), who swoops in to woo Mrs. Flax, Mermaids is a mother-daughter flick. Charlotte spurns her mom's sexual swagger, her brassy wardrobe, her resistance to playing the paper-doll part of the happy homemaker (marshmallow-based hors d'oeuvres are the dinnertime norm), and even her heritage. (Mrs. Flax is a Jewish Italian whose folks owned a kosher deli.) She thrills at the nunnery next door, seeing in its presence a confirmation of her holy calling, only to fall prey to an unholy lust for the laconic, dreamboat groundskeeper Joe (Michael Schoeffling) that mirrors her mother's high-school improprieties. Or as Cher deadpans: "Charlotte, I know you're planning a celibate life, but with half my chromosomes, I think that might be tough."

Truant wives, dead mothers, and AWOL fathers abound; none leaves a wound more gaping than America's Catholic patriarch, JFK, whose assassination cleaves the film and spurs Charlotte's first, desperate kiss, from which she, taking the pregnancy-clinic alias "Joan Arc," later believes she has immaculately conceived. Yet for all the film's subterranean concern with the failures of fathers, Mermaids endures in our pop-cultural memory for a single image: the three women dancing together. With joy that palpable, no absence is felt.

Virtual cinema to support Screen Slate

Screen Slate has curated a special selection of new releases and recent restorations available to rent, with 50% of proceeds supporting us as we continue to pay writers, redevelop our website, and offer honorariums for our new screening series. Spaceship Earth is $3.99, and other titles are $12 (or $10 for Screen Slate members - info here.)
A White, White Day (Hlynur Palmason, 2020)

In a remote Icelandic town, an off-duty police chief begins to suspect a local man of having had an affair with his late wife, who died in a tragic accident two years earlier. Gradually his obsession for finding out the truth accumulates and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones. A Film Movement release.

Rent it here

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (Bruno Barreto, 1976) - New Restoration

Based on the novel by Jorge Amado, this landmark Brazilian comedy follows the strange events that befall Dona Flor (Sonia Braga) after the death of her wild husband. After remarrying, she finds her less-than-satisfying sex life revived when the ghost of her late husband returns. A Film Movement release.

Rent it here
Spaceship Earth (Matt Wolf, 2020)

In 1991, 8 researchers entered the Biosphere 2, a geodesic structure touted as the largest closed ecological system on Earth. Matt Wolf's acclaimed documentary charts the stranger-than-fiction drama that ensued. A NEON release.

Rent it here

The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2020)

A cool, deadpan neo-noir about a corrupt undercover cop who must learn an indigenous language based on whistling to pull off a hesit. The Whistlers has been hailed as a Romanian answer to the Coen Bros. A Magnolia Pictures release.

Rent it here

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