If you're at all familiar with my taste in movies, you'll know that I'm a fan of what I call cringe movies. Overly cheesy and/or badly made flicks that I enjoy because of their badness. They're good for a laugh, and often they border of guilty pleasures. WELL. This re-imagining of Han Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is a precious, precious cringe gem. Let me tell you about it:
|I love it.|
Right off the bat it sets up by telling the basic Little Mermaid story -- of a mermaid who sells her soul to have legs -- via something that looks like colored pencil drawings brought to life. Also, in the style of The Princess Bride, since a grandmother (Shirley MacLaine!) is telling her two adorable granddaughters the story. In this version the mermaid fails to get her prince and is stuck working for the magician (Armando Gutierrez, also a producer of the project) who owns her soul. He happens to be the leader of a circus troupe in 1930's (or so) Mississippi, so she's one of his more impressive acts.
Meanwhile there's a little girl named Elle (Loreto Peralta) whose parents recently died and who has asthma that worries her uncle Cam (William Moseley). He's a writer and is assigned to investigate this rumored healing water being pedaled at... you guessed it -- a circus. Off they go, and meet the mermaid, named Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton). He's cynical, Elle is a believer, there's more sinister things going on... etc., etc., and it goes more or less how you think -- but more importantly, how you want it to.
|This story was bred to embrace the cliches.|
Movies that surprise you are overrated. Sometimes, the natural route is the best way, and they hit all the checkpoints here. Cam and Elizabeth slowly fall in love; the bad guy wants to kidnap Elle because she's special; they make friends with the circus' fortune teller (Gina Gershon) and dog-boy (Chris Yong) and have to steal Elizabeth's soul back; and William Moseley always, always, ALWAYS wears suspenders and his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows. (It's the little things.) Everyone explains the plot as it goes along, and themes are inconsistent from moment to moment and wonderfully cliched, like magic, and believing in fairytales, and true love. All that good stuff.
Before I build it up too much I should say unequivocally, that it is put together horrendously. When I say it's bad, it is a special brand of astonishingly bad. I don't even know where to begin to explain to you how bad this production is. There are some obvious green screen shots where you can see the green back-lighting the actors, and some downright painful lighting choices elsewhere. But CGI usage is reserved and decent enough. The cinematography works in that it conveys a pretty fairytale feel, although framing often cuts off characters when it isn't supposed to, and placement is weak and totally uncreative.
|Music starts and ends in awkward places... in this scene they slow dance and Cam trips so badly he almost knocks her down...|
The best bad things it does though, are not on the visual side. The script is so awkward, punching out plot line by line, and sometimes taking leaps that I couldn't even follow. Some was over-explained, some completely nonsensical, and all of it was awkward. So, so awkward there were times I thought I might die of the awkwardness. The acting didn't help it -- or perhaps it didn't help the acting. And I think the editing had a hand in it too. All the interactions, the line delivery, are so awkward and strange that they transcend this plane and reach a new, otherworldly one that defies my capacity for understanding.
Like, I wouldn't say Moseley is a particularly good actor, but I wouldn't say he's bad either. And it's so strange because he does have that same presence here as he does in The Chronicles of Narnia, where he fits in the world and holds attention. Sorta the same for Drayton -- The Shannara Chronicles (they both hail from "chronicles") is a super cheesy show, but she's typically capable of delivering a line. But everyone was awful in the most incomprehensible and oddly charming way. The villain attempts to chew scenery. Attempts. There's odd moment of overacting in doing trivial things that most films wouldn't bother to show. It's like the whole film was made up of the awkward spaces between when the actor is finished acting and the director says "cut." Like... they're technically acting... but not really.
|OR, it was like they made the movie using all the good, normal takes, and then all that footage got deleted, and all that was left was the bad takes, so they made the movie again out of those.|
When Elizabeth is in the circus act, she's displayed in a fish tank, and in almost every shot, you can see her actively trying to stay underwater -- as she has a lung-full of air that's making her float. It's the kind of thing you'd never think of, except when it's done wrong. Also, her mermaid getup is a sleeve over her legs, and you can always tell where her knees are. And maybe it was done to inch out the hour-and-twenty-four-minute runtime, but the camera is always lingering past its welcome, watching people do mundane things and slowing down the scenes' pace. Oh, and the dubbing! Most of the scenes are re-dubbed so badly that it was downright distracting. That didn't help the uncanny acting either.
At one point in the movie, Elizabeth is in her room looking at herself in the mirror, and just starts singing a song, and she sings it the whole way through and Cam hears from outside and starts spying on her, and when she's finished he tries to sneak away but knocks over a broomstick and she jumps up and goes "who's there?!" and he's just standing there trying to put the broom back in its place but the prop isn't staying and he's trying to power through but it's just so obvious that it wasn't scripted to take so long -- yet they leave the whole thing in, and if I'm totally and completely honest with you... I just love it so much.
|You, an intellectual: "The expressions in this photo accurately portray my duel emotions while watching the film. |
Me, confused by how much I like this movie: "IT ME."
I don't know what else to say. I guess you'll either understand or you won't, and if you do you should watch this movie. I mean, I can only imagine watching this as a little kid, but I like to think I would've adored it, not being able to judge it as I can now. It honestly does things that I sometimes secretly wish movies would do. The script is a first draft: a shambling mess, riddled with storytelling no-no's and unfinished thoughts, but is so shamelessly in love with its own story. It's awful, but I admire it. And the camera, looking where it shouldn't: it's because it's inept and doesn't know what editing is, but its mistakes shows us the story in a unique way.
If you think I'm stretching to find positives here, I'm really not. It's bad. It shouldn't be this way. It's objectively bad; objectively a less effective way of conveying the story than the tried and true way of basic competence. But basic competence would've been downright boring with this story. It would've made it average. I don't think this story could have achieve exceptionalism without being altered to be unrecognizable. So that it made itself exceptionally bad instead, is, to me... well... ideal.
|You honestly can't get this kind of thing anywhere else.|
And I just think it's so cute that no matter how old I get, Will Moseley will always be the perfect amount of older than me and attractive. I wondered what would happen once I was too old to crush on Peter Pevensie, but 13 years later it's like nothing has changed. I guess that's why I loved it. No, not because Moseley is handsome and charming and wears his sleeves rolled up (not totally) -- but because it made me feel like nothing has changed since I was a kid who didn't know what the rules of filmmaking were, and couldn't tell when they were being broken, but just loved adventure, and romance, and fairytales; unreservedly and without discretion.
I don't know whether to recommend this as a good film or bad, but I do know I recommend it. I found myself outright laughing at some of the terrible choices and ineptitude here, but also falling for its shameless adoration with what it's trying so nobly to present. It failed, yet, it succeeded. I'm baffled, mystified, amused, a little frustrated, and a little in love.
You can draw your own conclusions: it's currently streaming on Netflix.