A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mermaids is a 1990 coming-of-age movie about a 15-year-old's sexual awakenings in 1963, and the difficult relationship she has with her free-spirited mother. This teen, a Jewish girl obsessed with Catholicism, frequently discusses her sexual desire for her 26-year-old bus driver who is also the caretaker of a nearby convent; they eventually have sex, an act that amounts to statutory rape. The single mother regularly moves her two daughters from town to town whenever she feels confined, gets bored, and/or it's time to break up with her latest boyfriend; she has sex in a car with her married boss (the car shown from the outside bouncing while she's in the backseat with her boss), and is shown in the moments after sex with her newest boyfriend. Teen girls smoke cigarettes and listen as a girl talks of performing oral sex on a boy while on a date. There are also some intense moments, including scenes of the town's devastated reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and a scene in which a young girl falls into a river and starts drowning. The 15-year-old also believes she is pregnant after kissing the older man, and even goes to the gynecologist to confirm this; the gynecologist has to be the one to tell her how babies are made. Regular mild profanity. Adults drink in social situations. The teen girl drinks wine and shares some with her 8-year-old sister; they then hiccup and slur their speech.
What's the story?
In the enchanting and complex coming-of-age story MERMAIDS, Charlotte Flax (Winona Ryder), the nun-obsessed daughter of a Jewish mother. Mrs. Flax (Cher) is gutsy, creative, and enchanting -- and when things go poorly with her paramour, she skips town, preferring to start a new life in a new town. That's how the family ends up in Massachusetts, where Charlotte meets Joe (Michael Schoeffling), the resident of a convent. While she decides what to do about Joe, she copes with feelings about her absent father and spars with her strong-willed, promiscuous mom. Missteps and teen-sized mistakes ensue.
Is it any good?
Not only is Ryder's powerhouse performance spot-on and moving -- when she cries at the end of the film, the viewer is likely to, too. Mermaids isn't the one-note sex comedy of American Pie or the inspirational drama of Gracie. It's a film that turns the most painful years of many people's lives into entertainment -- realistic, sympathetic entertainment.
Charlotte has an inner monologue that's completely different from the one she shares with the world. In her head, she's thinking, "I kissed a boy and I think I might be pregnant." But when Mrs. Flax begs her to talk, all she can do is shrug and roll her eyes. What parents and teens won't be able to relate to this? Add on the fabulous performances of Bob Hoskins and Christina Ricci and you have an adorable and moving coming-of-age movie that's likely to be as prescient today.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about coming-of-age movies. How is this movie similar to and different from other movies in which teenagers experience their first forays into adulthood?
This movie was based on a book. What would be the challenges in adapting a novel into a movie? How does the movie attempt to convey the innermost thoughts and feelings of the lead character?
How does this movie address topics like family, religion, sex, relationships, and growing up? How would the movie be different had it been set in current times?
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