Tuesday 2 October 2018

Movie Review: Splash (1984)

A fantasy romantic comedy, Splash succeeds in creating an unlikely love story between a mermaid and a man.

As an eight year old, Allen Bauer fell off the Cape Cod ferry and had a weird underwater encounter with a young mermaid. 20 years later Allen (Tom Hanks) is running a fruit distribution business in Manhattan with his obnoxious brother Freddie (John Candy), and not much of a believer in love. After another mishap at sea again near Cape Cod, Allen is rescued by the same, now grown mermaid (Daryl Hannah). She finds his wallet and decides to track him down, her tail turning to legs once on shore.

Allen is startled by the beautiful and initially naked woman who latches onto him, and he is blissfully unaware she is a mermaid. She learns English in one afternoon by watching television, they fall deeply in love, and he gives her the name Madison. Meanwhile, volatile scientist Dr. Walter Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) has spent his entire career trying to prove the existence of mermaids. He is hot on Madison's tail, so to speak, eager to reveal her true nature.

Directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer, Splash sounds ridiculous, and indeed the script was roundly rejected before Disney picked it up for their new more adult-oriented Touchstone marque. And thanks to Howards' deft touch, Hanks' everyman persona and Hannah's curious innocence, the film simply clicks. Comedy and romance come together in an irresistible and most literal fish-out-of-water tale, boosted by smooth special effects and crystal quality underwater scenes.

With buoyant irreverence the film plays with the theme of love emerging from the unlikeliest of places, romance blossoming from within the ocean despite Allen being terrified of water. Other percolating ideas include New York as a city that welcomes all aliens, the unintended usefulness of useless television, and government types as military-happy incompetent meddlers (and here Splash borrows from E.T.).

Not everything about Splash quite works, and the weaker moments find Howard catering to more base instincts. The ending introduces an unnecessary chase featuring military trucks full of soldiers running around, and some of Freddie's antics belong in a more lowbrow comedy. Levy's performance is also free of any nuance. And in making Madison exceptionally libidinous Splash does surrender to the male fantasy of the beautiful, available and innocent woman draping herself all over an unsuspecting man.

But thankfully, most of the film is centred on Allen and Madison as a compatible match, and both are entranced by a sense of discovery. He is falling genuinely in love for the first time, and she is discovering life on land, and their relationship is strengthened by the shared sense of wonder about what is possible. Splash may be a fishy love story, but its tail is in the right place.

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