‘Mermaids’ – Cher and Winona Ryder form an eccentric family on HBO Max

Cher and Winona Ryder play mother and daughter in Mermaids (1990), a nostalgic comic drama of an unconventional family in 1960s New England.

Ryder plays Charlotte, a teenage girl frustrated that her mother (who she refers to as “Mrs. Flax”) keeps getting involved with married men and then uprooting the family to move to a new town when those romances blow up. She rebels by embracing Catholic saints and idolizing nuns, despite the fact that they are Jewish. Charlotte is thrilled that their most recent cross-country flight lands them in a Massachusetts home just down the hill from a convent, but her determination to lead a holy life is challenged when she falls for her handsome neighbor Joe (Michael Schoeffling) and starts having, in her own words, impure thoughts.

Mom, meanwhile, is wooed by the affectionate Lou (Bob Hoskins), a shoe salesman who embraces her entire family and gives Charlotte the hope of stability. As he becomes a part of their life, however, Mom becomes wary of emotional commitment and her flight instincts start to emerge again.

Based on the novel by Patty Dann, this is a sweet if familiar tale, part eccentric family comedy (Mom’s meals are entirely made out of hors d’oeuvres of dubious nutritional value) and part coming of age romance, with a twist of tragedy and a happy ending. It’s not always convincing but it is warmly directed by Richard Benjamin and set to a soundtrack of pop songs of the early 1960s.

Cher gets top billing but this is Ryder’s film and her performance carries the story. Christina Ricci makes her film debut as the swimming-obsessed younger sister.

Rated PG-13

Streams for a limited time on HBO Max

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Mermaids [Blu-ray]
Mermaids [DVD]
Mermaids / Little Miss Sunshine / The Family Stone [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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