Mermaids (1990): Richard Benjamin’s Serio-Comedy, Starring Cher, Winona Ryder, and Christina Ricci

Richard Benjamin directed Mermaids a family serio-comedy, starring Cher, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder, Michael Schoeffling, and Christina Ricci in her film debut.


Theatrical release poster

Set in the early 1960s, The plot follows a neurotic teenage girl who moves with her wayward mother and young sister to a small Massachusetts town.

Based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Patty Dann, the film was originally planned as the American debut of Swedish director Lasse Hallström, but Benjamin helmed after both Hallström and Frank Oz abandoned the project.

Released in December 1990, Mermaids was met with critical acclaim, particularly for the performance of Ryder, who received a Golden Globe nomination and a National Board of Review Award.

Ricci also won a Young Artist Award for her performance.

Set in 1963 Oklahoma, the tale centers on Charlotte Flax, a neurotic girl of 15, whose carefree single mother Rachel (Cher), relocates Charlotte and her half-sister Kate (aged 9), each time she ends a relationship.

Rachel’s parenting approach—which resembles friendship rather than mothering—is troubling to the anxiety-ridden Charlotte, who is embarrassed by her mother’s flamboyance.

After ending yet another affair, this time with her married employer, Rachel and her daughters move to the small town of Eastport, Massachusetts where she also gets a job as a receptionist for an insurance adjuster.

Charlotte is ecstatic about their new home’s location, as it borders a convent, and she is obsessed with Catholicism.

The film ends with Rachel, Charlotte, and Kate playfully dancing as they set the dinner table for a family meal, a ritual they have not done in the past.

Cher as Rachel Flax (“Mrs. Flax”)
Bob Hoskins as Louis “Lou” Landsky
Winona Ryder as Charlotte Flax
Michael Schoeffling as Joseph “Joe” Poretti
Christina Ricci as Kate Flax
Caroline McWilliams as Carrie
Jan Miner as Mother Superior
Betsy Townsend as Mary O’Brien
Richard McElvain as Mr. Crain
Paula Plum as Mrs. Crain


Directed by Richard Benjamin
Produced by Lauren Lloyd, Wallis Nicita, Patrick J. Palmer, Suzanne Rothbaum

Written by June Roberts, based on Mermaids by Patty Dann
Music by Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography Howard Atherton
Edited by Jacqueline Cambas
Distributed by Orion Pictures

Release date: December 14, 1990

Running time: 110 minutes
Budget $20 million
Box office $35.4 million