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Posts Tagged ‘Splash’

Family movie night again (well, with my niece and nephew, anyway: their parents were off watching Bond) and I found myself in the midst of a ticklish diplomatic negotiation – finding a film to keep all parties happy. Virtually impossible, of course (it seems to me that the main innovation of the streaming era is that the protracted arguments you used to have in Blockbuster can now take place in front of your flat-screen), especially given the fact that my tastes incline towards nephew’s naturally, and I do worry about niece feeling a bit underserved.

So, in the end, I made an executive decision and we ended up watching Ron Howard’s Splash from 1984, which (the odd joke about Swedish pornography aside) I recalled as being nice, innocuous fare – this was admittedly based on my sole viewing of the film at Christmas 1987, so it’s not like my memory was pinpoint sharp or anything.

So: here we have a rom-com of the fantastical variety, although there are some interesting structural anomalies to it which we will come to in good time. A rather young Tom Hanks plays Allen Bauer, co-owner of a New York City fruit and veg wholesaler, who seems to be doing okay financially but is just not happy when it comes to his love life: no matter how seemingly perfect the woman in his life appears to be, he just can’t seem to engage romantically with them. His crass elder brother (John Candy) doesn’t seem to see the problem, but Allen wants love.

And so he drives up to Cape Cod, which for you or I would seem like an odd way to solve this particular problem – for him it makes marginally more sense, as he had an odd encounter there when he fell off a boat as a young man and hallucinated (obviously) seeing a young mermaid in the water. Apparently the area has form in this area, as a fringe marine biologist named Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) has turned up to go mermaid-hunting.

Well, what do you know, but Allen ends up falling in the water again, and knocking himself out. He wakes up on a nearby beach, apparently having been dragged to safety by a gorgeous naked blonde woman (Daryl Hannah) – maybe there’s something to be said for Cape Cod after all. She flees into the water when he attempts to speak to her, but still hangs onto his wallet (maybe there’s a lesson there, lads).

(The MousePlus version of Splash, which we watched, has a caption announcing it has been digitally re-edited for its appearance on the platform. I thought this meant the Swedish pornography joke had been expurgated, but no: what they’ve done is digitally extended Daryl Hannah’s hair to cover her bum when she’s running away from the camera. Apparently even an innocent pair of bare buttocks is unacceptable to the mouse executives – but the effect just makes it look like she’s got a furry arse, which is considerably less charming than the original scene must have been.)

Well, Allen goes back to New York, where he is soon afterwards joined by the blonde woman, who is indeed a mermaid, and has tracked him down using his driving licence and some ancient nautical charts (yes, this is a movie which makes a few substantial asks of the audience, even given that it is about mermaids). This being the 80s, and the whole safe sex message not quite having got going yet, they go straight back to his apartment for some off-screen (but apparently intensive) whoa-ho-ho: whether Allen later contracts Fin Rot or something similar is not disclosed.

However, there are wrinkles in the idyll which appears to be in the offing: for one thing, the mermaid, who takes the name Madison (this was a joke at the time, but as a result of the movie it experienced an immense spike in its popularity), can only stay on land for five or six days before having to leave forever (it’s an arbitrary plot-enabling rule). Also, Kornbluth is aware that Madison is staying with Allen and is determined to expose her and thus vindicate his belief in the existence of merfolk (their tail turns into legs on lend, until they get wet, at which point the tail reappears – another ability the film seems to have invented wholesale as a plot-enabler, along with Madison’s ability to learn perfect English in an afternoon just by watching TV)…

Splash is a charming, funny film, and you can see why it was a big hit and gave most of the people involved such substantial career bumps – this is really the start of the career of Tom Hanks as we know him – not too long prior he was appearing in things like the silly scaremongering TV movie Mazes and Monsters, while he was also in the coarse frat-boy comedy Bachelor Party in the same year. At the time I doubt anyone honestly thought they were looking at the great leading man of his generation, but with hindsight you can see just why Hanks has become such a big star.

Daryl Hannah hasn’t done quite so well – I don’t remember seeing her in anything since Kill Bill – and while this may be due to the usual way movie star career trajectories pan out – men mature, women either fade away or end up in character parts – perhaps it’s also got something to do with the rather odd structure of the film, which I alluded to earlier.

I don’t want to generalise, but the rom-com genre is usually perceived as being quite female-oriented, or at least egalitarian in the way they handle the two leads. The thing about Splash is that it mixes into the rom-com formula some quite big dollops of broader comedy, as well as a sort of action-adventure jeopardy climax which feels like it owes a lot to E.T.. (This is where the Swedish pornography gag fits in, along with the pricelessly funny image of John Candy trying to play squash with a fag hanging out of his mouth.) These skew the film more towards a general audience. In addition to this, Madison never quite feels like a fully realised character, she’s just a sort of convenient fantasy figure (blonde, often-clothing averse, large sexual appetite – not sure the furry arse fits this profile though) – it’s Allen whose personality and feelings the film seems much more interested in exploring. Perhaps this is what you need to do for your rom-com to be a break-out hit – Four Weddings was a smash, which was likewise very focused on the male lead, while the critically-adored The Shape of Water (which is almost a darker, role-reversal version of the same story) billed itself as a fantasy or even a horror film rather than a romance.

I don’t know how much of this was the result of calculated choices by Ron Howard and the directors (nor, for that matter, how much of a debt the film owes to the British romantic comedy Miranda and its sequel, films with a vaguely similar theme), but I think they contributed substantially to Splash’s success. I enjoyed seeing it again, and my young relatives found it quite diverting too. So we may cautiously describe it as a minor classic – even if I would still recommend the pre-digital-editing version.

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