Synopsis: Academy Award winner Tom Hanks’ stars as Allen Bauer, a workaholic who’s convinced he can’t fall in love. That is, until he’s mysteriously rescued at sea by the mermaid of his dreams! Soon Allen and Madison (Daryl Hannah, Kill Bill) are swept away by hilarious and heartwarming romance. Academy Award winner Ron Howard directs a star studded cast, including Eugene Levy (Bringing Down the House, American Pie) and hilarious John Candy (Home Alone).
eyelights: Tom Hanks. Daryl Hannah. the sharp script. the underwater sequences.
eyesores: Eugene Levy. the weaker third act.
“I don’t understand. All my life I’ve been waiting for someone and when I find her, she’s… she’s a fish.”
‘Splash’ is a 1984 romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with a stranger that he once met when he was a child, only to later discover that this woman is a real-life mermaid. Starring Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah in the leads and directed by Ron Howard, the picture was a massive success, landing 70 million on an 8 million budget.
Personally, I have a real fondness for ‘Splash’. Back when it was released, I was a mere youngling and I had never seen anything like it before (one might argue, of course, that it’s because it’s pretty much a one-of-a-kind picture). I not only liked it, I ended up going to see it at the cinema a good number of times. It totally wowed me.
I thought ‘Splash’ was funny, down-to-earth, romantic and fantastical. Plus it had a nearly nude Daryl Hannah, who probably never looked better. It’s probably the first picture to really tap into my mushy side and cast a spell over me; while many women await their Prince Charming, a part of me is probably still waiting for my own Madison.
Madison of course, is a fantasy, but as fantasies go, she’s pretty much perfect: she’s highly intelligent, attractive, fresh, completely enamoured with her partner and capable of eliciting the same in return. I can’t imagine why a guy wouldn’t want to get lost in someone the way that Allen gets lost in Madison. It seems absolutely lovely to me.
It’s probably part of the reason why I relate to Allen here.
Of course, Allen is an everyman, which makes him relatable. He’s a simple guy who just wants to find that someone to share his life with. Sadly, ever since he first saw Madison as a kid, he’s been unable to fully immerse himself in his relationships; a part of him still waits for her and no other woman can take her place. He longs for more.
When he finally meets Madison again, he doesn’t just fall in love with her, he’s utterly captivated. And his delirium is infectious. I love that the guy is just gaga over the girl, something that isn’t that common in romantic comedies. The fact that she’s a mermaid adds just that much more to the wonder, to the magic, taking place on screen.
Thankfully, ‘Splash’ is more than a mere rom-com. There are tons of sappy fantasies out there, but few that are as consistently funny as this one is. What’s great is that it delves into a variety of types of humour; from the silly to the absurd, from one-liners to visual gags, ‘Splash’ is loaded with enough funny to amuse a wide range of audiences.
Heck, even John Candy is a blast here.
I’m no fan whatsoever of the late funnyman, in fact, I despised his typically grating screen persona, but the script and direction are so good on ‘Splash’ that I actually kind of enjoy Candy here. His crude, rude, self-absorbed, skirt-chaser gets a few laughs along the way – and he has heart too. Granted, he has limited screen time, too, so that likely helps.
The whole cast is wonderful, really.
Tom Hanks is undeniably perfect as the everyman, a role he would end up typecasted in for a while: he totally sells us the part of this charming, humble, dorky yet funny dreamer. I’ve never been a great fan of Tom Hanks, but some of his early work shows promise. He stumbled about in the mid-’80s, but he really came into his own about a decade later.
Meanwhile, Daryl Hannah brings the right amount of naiveté and softness to Madison so that we can believe this mermaid is real. The fact that she was actually able to swim in the mermaid outfit (and extremely quickly at that!) helps her sell the part. I’ve actually never seen her better; no matter what she’s done since, Madison remains tops in my book.
To think that she wasn’t even the first in line for the part. Apparently the role was offered to just about everyone under the sun (including Melanie Griffith, Diane Lane, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tatum O’Neal, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sharon Stone and Kathleen Turner) before she got it. I can’t even imagine what the picture would have been like without her.
The only person I have a difficult time with is Eugene Levy, as a researcher who happens to see Madison while out on a research expedition – and who becomes obsessed with tracking her down and proving to the scientific community that she’s real. Not only is the character detestable, but Levy is whiny, grating and a terrible sight. Shudder.
In fact, it’s this part, the first I’ve ever seen him in, that sealed the deal for me with respect to Levy, irrespective of his talent. I’ve seen him in many great parts since, including in ‘Best in Show’, but I think that the reason I have an aversion to him is because of a lingering distaste for everything he is and represents in ‘Splash’.
I can gush endlessly about ‘Splash’. It’s so funny: the rather confused receptionist who got hit by lightning, Candy’s character dropping change to look under women’s skirts, the sight of him playing squash with a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his back pocket, the reactions that people have to Madison’s strange behaviour, …etc., it all adds up.
It even looks amazing in parts: all of the underwater sequences were shot in the Bahamas, giving it an exotic allure and adding to the enchanting quality of the picture. These are key because they help to situate Madison and lend her credibility (thanks again to Hannah’s uncanny ability to swim like a fish – something she had practiced as a kid).
But ‘Splash’ is hardly a perfect film. The third act, in particular, suffers from a limp conflict between Allen and Madison and a poorly-conceived threat to her survival. The whole rescue and rekindling of their romance feels false, diluting the effect of the first two-thirds, dispelling the magic. It’s not at all terrible, but it’s of clearly lower calibre.
The fact that the lovely, nearly angelic, Madison gets her life ruined in public like that is terrible. To then see how frightened, terrified and isolated she becomes is heartbreaking. This douses the audience with some pretty chilly water at a time when we’d much rather remain immersed in the delightful warmth of the first part of the film.
And there’s Allen’s moodiness. In the third act, he becomes testy when Madison turns down his marriage proposal, not knowing her secret yet. It just spoils things. And then, when he discovers she’s a mermaid, he rejects her completely, exhibiting a level of prejudice that is rather distasteful. It made it very hard to root for the guy.
But that story of prejudice is an extra element that makes ‘Splash’ transcend your usual romantic fantasy. It poses the question of where one would draw the line for Love. It forces the audience to reflect upon what one’s priorities are, which is great – especially since, ultimately, in ‘Splash’ the heart overrides all prejudice. Even xenophobia.
I still get misty-eyed, maybe even wistful, when I think about ‘Splash’. It brings me back to a time when romance was new, special, even magical, something that adulthood and life experience dulls out some. Add to this the fact that it’s extremely funny and it’s a potent mixture that very few movies match – even some 30 years later.
There may be many fish in the sea, but there’s really just one ‘Splash’.
Post scriptum: While I was reading up on the movie to write this blurb, I discovered that there’s actually a ‘Splash, Too’ TV movie – with a completely different cast. Really? They dared do that? Brrr…
Date of viewing: June 14, 2015