All the things ‘Mermaids’ taught me about growing up

Twenty-five years ago today, a little coming-of-age film called Mermaids was released in theaters. It takes place in 1963 and stars Cher, Winona Ryder, and Christina Ricci (in her first movie role!) as a mother and her two daughters starting over in small-town Massachusetts after recently relocating for the umpteenth time. Matriarch Rachel is beautiful, free-spirited, and glamorous; 15-year-old Charlotte has turned to religion to help her cope with her confusing adolescence and budding hormones; and nine-year-old Kate just wants to become the best on her swim team (and maybe the best swimmer in the world). During the course of the film, they rediscover what it means to be a family, with the help of both their shared bond and a newcomer named Lou, played by the late and wonderful Bob Hoskins.

This movie is not very well-known, which is sad because it’s a very raw and honest look at so many aspects of life that we all experience – namely, everything that comes along with growing up when your situation is a little less than ideal. So to celebrate its 25 years of existence, here are all the things Mermaids taught me as I started growing up in the early ’90s, while my mother wondered about the sanity of her child daughter watching this movie for the 1847th time instead of cartoons.

There is no relationship more complicated than that between a mother and daughter

The dynamic between Rachel and Charlotte mirrors the most tumultuous real-life exchanges between a typical well-meaning mother and her much-different teenage daughter. They would do absolutely anything to keep each other safe, but half the time, they also kind of want to kill each other.

Also, every girl turns out to be somewhat like her mother – even ones as different from their moms as Charlotte is from Rachel. Deep down, we’re more similar to our moms than we think. And it’s the point when we not only accept this, but welcome and smile about it, that we know we’re growing up.

You cannot get pregnant from kissing

Sadly, Charlotte has to find this out from her (male) doctor, which ends up being très embarrassing for her. Alas, the ’90s were a great time to be a kid, because so many movies tackled this subject; see also Now and Then (which also starred Christina Ricci, five years later).

There is no such thing as a “normal” family

If there’s one thing I learned from Mermaids that has stuck with me this long, it’s this: Family does not mean a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, a dog, and a mailman who knows you by name and receives a Sears-fueled Christmas card from you every year. “Family” can just mean people who care about and would do anything for each other, including doling out doses of tough love when we need it most.

Everything in moderation

Sex. Alcohol. Shopping. Makeup. It’s up to us how we exercise control over things that are fine in moderation, and how much we let them affect our lives.

Bald guys are mad foxy

I married a sexy dude who doesn’t exactly have a lot of hair. I’m not gonna say I blame Rachel Flax and Lou Landksy, but I blame Rachel Flax and Lou Landksy.

You’re never too old for a super-cool bedroom

If you’ve seen this movie, you know the scene I’m talking about: when Lou rigs Kate’s room to look like she’s in the middle of the ocean 24/7 and we all simultaneously fall in love with as Rachel does too.

The best part about this scene is how all the characters pause and take in the sight around them, reminding us all that living in the moment and embracing our childlike-wonder side is vastly underrated.

Also, a real woman is never too old for anything

Spoken verbatim from the mouth of babe-a-licious Rachel Flax. If she’s old, I want to be old.

1960s fashion = everything

Mermaids is the first thing I ever remembered watching that shaped what my adult style would eventually end up leaning toward. All I can say is thank you,

Side note: Rachel’s mermaid costume is 100% the reason “Dress like a mermaid for Halloween at some point in my adult life” is a real entry on my bucket list.

Being nice to people who are jerks to you is overrated

It’s one thing to be classy and polite, especially in the workplace. But having to be nice when someone is mean to you just because you’re a woman? Nah. Not even in the 1960s did Rachel Flax put up with that.

“It’s in his kiss”

On the Mermaids soundtrack was Cher’s cover of a 1960s hit song called “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” The 1990 accompanying music video has Cher joined by her onscreen daughters, Ryder and Ricci, wearing the same wigs and ’60s outfit as Cher and dancing around as her adorable backup singers.

The cover of this song was so popular it even inspired random things that only a weirdo like me would know, like Tiny Toon Adventures paying a tribute to the original. But the lyrics to this song are the most potent thing about it. In it, Cher sings about how whether a guy loves you is all about in the way he kisses you and not what he says, how he looks at you, how he acts, etc. As important as all aspects of a relationship are, I have found these wise words to be surprisingly accurate in my years.

Change is inevitable – and healthy

As much as Charlotte wants to find some stability in her life and Rachel has a hard time getting too attached to anyone or anything, Kate is the one who kind of has it down: Just go with the flow (quite literally, as she’s a swimmer first and everything else second). Change is coming, at every stage of our lives, and embracing it and dealing with it in a healthy way instead of fighting it is the only real option.

Sometimes, all you need is a good dance in the kitchen

The movie ends with the girls embracing their ever-changing lives in their little Massachusetts town, because even though they all have wildly different personalities, they’re all finally on the same page. They celebrate by dancing in the kitchen to a song called, “If You Want to Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul.

This is one of my favorite songs of all time, and in fact was one of the songs played on the dance floor at my wedding last year because of how much I’m obsessed with it. Check out the whole end scene below, then try to resist (re)watching this entire movie. And why not? Today is as good a day as any. May we all turn to kitchen dance parties at some point in our lives to announce to the world, “Hey, we got this.”

(Images via Orion Pictures; GIFs via here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here)

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