Movie review by
Heather Boerner, Common Sense Media
Mermaids Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
'90s coming-of-age tale has sex, drinking, cursing.
  • PG-13
  • 1990
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No real positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The mother in the movie skips town with her two daughters pretty much whenever she feels like it, taking them to their next home simply by closing her eyes and pointing at a map of the United States. The teen daughter, raised Jewish, is obsessed with Catholicism and frequently prays whenever she has what she calls "impure thoughts" for the 26-year-old caretaker of a nearby convent, and even goes on a fast in an effort to atone for kissing the older man; she later has sex with him in the bell tower of the convent. 


Kate falls off a small waterfall and nearly drowns. The death of President Kennedy is described in detail. Rachel slaps Charlotte. Statutory rape when a 26-year-old man has sex with a teen girl.


A 15-year-old girl, in a series of voiceovers, talks of her sexual desire of a 26-year-old man who drives the school bus. They later kiss and have sex in a bell tower of the convent where the man works as a caretaker; no nudity, but clothes removed, and a close-up of her undoing his belt. The mother has sex with her boss in his car -- this is shown from the outside of the bouncing car, then inside as they talk of sex and their relationship in the backseat with their clothes on. The mother and her new boyfriend are shown in bed shortly after having sex; it's their first date. In the bathroom of a high school, a girl tells her friends of how she performed oral sex on a boy while on a date. A teen thinks she is pregnant from kissing.


Regular profanity, most often said by the mother: "bitch," "a--holes," "piss," "goddamn," "hell," "for Christ's sake." In the girls' restroom, a girl tells her friends about oral sex. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A 15-year-old girl drinks wine, then pours some for her 8-year-old sister; they then sit next to each other on the front porch, hiccupping and slurring their speech. Adults drink scotch, wine, and champagne on dates, at holiday dinners, at a New Year's Eve party. They only appear drunk during the New Year's Eve party. Cigarette smoking, including a scene in which teen girls smoke in the high school restroom. 

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 and 15-year-old Written byexitedreviewer February 20, 2015

What a great coming-of-age!

This movie deals with sex, but not in a "sexual" way, if that makes any sense. It's not trying to be "sexy" but, it deals with a young... Continue reading
Adult Written byHenrysmovieguide December 18, 2017

Mermaids is an amazing movie for families with tweens (but not TOO young) to watch.

While it does have a very watered-down sex scene and lots of sexual references, Mermaids is a family movie at heart. Winona Ryder and Cher give incredible perfo... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byAva Perry May 19, 2020

Not exeptionally great, but was ok

Written from a 13 yr old perspective, I think that this movie was kinda meh. This movie kinda didn't really have a purpose or much of a plot at all. There... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bySab2006 May 13, 2020

From an 11 year old girl

I watched this movie when I was 11, don’t judge. I thought it was a little bit of a weird movie but I loved it at the same time and won’t forget it. It has a li... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales

Themes & Topics

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