In the early '60s, nomadic single mom Mrs. Flax (Cher) packs up her two daughters, Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and Kate (Christina Ricci), in a beat-up Chevy wagon and moves to small-town Massachusetts. Preteen Kate is obsessed with swimming, while 15-year-old Charlotte is searching for ways to rebel against her mom (and mom's flirty ways). The route she chooses is to become fascinated with Catholicism and all its arcane rituals, even though the family is Jewish. Her coming of age is handled with plenty of Wonder Years-style voiceovers as she fantasizes about Christ, the saints, the Pope, the Church--all things Catholic. Cracks in her religious armor begin to appear, though, in the form of a hunky local guy (Michael Schoeffling) who works at the convent. Meanwhile, her mom strikes up a romance with the town shoe-store proprietor, Lou (Bob Hoskins). Though Richard Benjamin's movie is a bit slow and tends to lose its focus somewhat in the last third, Mermaids also has fairly credible dialogue and surprisingly believable chemistry between Cher and Hoskins. The segments dealing with JFK's assassination are handled particularly well, and while Ricci's role is a rather small one, she's charming nonetheless. It's all too easy for coming-of-age movies to veer toward the maudlin, but thankfully this engaging comedy-drama seldom does. Cher, by the way, reprises her 1966 Sonny and Cher look, substituting a tight skirt and pumps for her turtleneck and fur vest. --Jerry Renshaw
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