Monday, 15 June 2015

STYLE DISSECTION: 'MERMAIDS'




The first time I saw this film I was nearly at the point when Winona Ryder's character does something with Michael Schoeffling's (AKA Jake Ryan's) character and my mum walked in.

"What is this?  What are you watching?"
"Mermaids"
"I think you're a bit too young for this darling".

And the TV was switched off.  What was I too young for?  I wondered.  I didn't feel like I'd seen anything I wasn't supposed to.  The next time I saw it my mum said that Cher's character in the film - Rachel the matriarch of the Flax family - was a bad mother.  I imagined this was because she gave her kids party/finger food for dinner.  I didn't think that made her a bad mum.  The romantic entaglements of Charlotte (Ryder) and her mother were completely uninteresting for me at that time, so I had no idea what it was that was so unsuitable for my young eyes.  One thing I thought was very suitable was the style of Rachel.  Her polished black beehive and flawless cats eye makeup.  Her polka dot dresses and high heels.  I loved it all.

I think one of my favourite things is when period films become meta period films because you're watching them decades after they were made.  This is the '60s seen through the eyes of the '90s.  So there are two layers of style and aesthetic here.  The choices of the costume designers and set designers were probably made while they were wearing tartan shirts and high waisted stone washed jeans.  They probably had big scrunched hair.  When they went home after a long day at work it was probably MTV they flicked through before watching Seinfeld.   Whether they wanted it to or not, that will have in some way influenced their creative choices.  And I love that.  (Another film I want to dissect that did '50s in the '80s is Grease 2).

Bad mother or not, Rachel Flax is the epitome of '60s elegance and feminine confidence.  She is also really into pink.






She moves from place to place with her two daughters.  As soon as one relationship ends she gets in the car, closes her eyes and points to a spot on a map of America.  This is how she ends up in the small town of Eastport Massachusets, living by the water in this sweet white house. 


 Look at her pale pink car.  Oh my goodness.

Rachel is a law unto herself.  She's selfish, but she's also raising two kids on her own, which is never an easy task.  Especially not in a small town in the '60s.  She tries her best, and cuts sandwiches like this.


Oh and sometimes she wears blue. 




And sometimes she wears trousers. 





She always looks really, really cool.


And as you can see, she likes to entertain her kids by dressing as a blonde sea-shell-bra-ed mermaid for a fancy dress party.  Amazing.



Unfortuately, as is often the case with mothers and daughters, her eldest Charlotte rebels in the only way she can with a mother like Rachel.  By being seriously, intensely, defiantly religious. 






Rachel isn't the best at dealing with a daughter who gets star struck in the presence of nuns.  Especially because Charlotte also insists on wearing her absent father's boots with her dresses and buttoned-up cardigans.  




She's very serious.  She's also very naive, at one point she panics that she's pregnant from kissing. 


All of her piety disappears when she meets Joe, her school bus driver.  She's really into this guy. 




And her mother is no help whatsoever.


(I love Charlotte's pale blue varisty jacket).  In general the two just don't understand each other.  Charlotte doesn't understand her mother's need to date, or why she serves her kids dinner on cocktail sticks. 



But one thing they both agree on is how wonderful the youngest member of the Flax family is, Kate. Played by a tiny Christina Ricci. 





 She's so cute in this film.  Kate is obsessed with swimming, and likes to hold her breath under water in the bath, using a stopwatch to time herself.  Lou, Rachel's Eastport boyfriend (played by Bob Hoskins), paints Kate's bedroom so it looks as though it's under the sea.  I coveted this room so much as a kid, and I still do.


But then Charlotte finally realises the best way to rebel is to actually be more like Rachel.  And that's when the trouble really starts. Out go the white blouses and hair bands.  In comes the lipstick and high heels.




Eventually they find equilibrium, and it all works out.  Charlotte lets go of her dad's boots, and discovers trousers and dresses with straps.  And Rachel is a bit less into running away all the time.  It's a classic!  




P.S. I love that kitchen.  

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