I recently watched Mermaids — not once but twice! — for the first time in years. I think it might be my favourite Winona Ryder film, and, trust me, I have many (like, Reality Bites) and I’m sure most of them will be featured on the blog sooner or later. 23 years after the film’s release, it’s a reminder that coming-of-age films about young women have changed so much. It’s also a reminder that Winona Ryder never really got a successor. For awhile, the media were trying to pin Lindsay Lohan down as one but, save for Mean Girls and Prairie Home Companion, all Lohan vehicles were pretty weak in comparison.
In Mermaids, Ryder plays Charlotte, a 15 year-old full of contradictory emotions. She aspires to become a nun (despite being Jewish!), yet indulges in (somewhat kinky) sexual fantasies involving a school bus driver, played by that guy from Sixteen Candles that kind of looks like Matt Dillon. It’s 1963 and Charlotte is as prudish about her clothing choices almost as much as the saints she worships, a complete opposite of her flamboyant mother Mrs. Flax, played by Cher. Mrs. Flax makes marshmallow kebabs for dinner for Charlotte and her younger sister Kate (charmingly played by the wonderful Christina Ricci) and moves every year or so in fear of becoming the town tramp.
“Oh, I’m going to hell for sure. Here he is, talking about his dead mother and I can’t help wishing his hands were unbuttoning my dress!”
“So Joe, tell me about the nuns in the convent. Do they wear underwear in the shower?”
Charlotte wears button-up collar dresses, sweet granny cardigans, and old beat up boots that desexualize her moralistic ensambles even further. It’s incredibly charming, in the way only young Winona Ryder can be, with that face that can go through a million emotions in about a minute: from innocent and childlike, to sophisticated and sexy.
You love her as much as I do, right?