Do you ever get a craving to watch a film? I’m not sure why but this week I’ve been desperate to watch Splash. I think it’s because I’ve been listening to old episodes of the Ricky Gervais XFM podcast. I think it was mentioned in one of the earlier episodes when Karl was talking about Mermaids. It’s been years since I watched this film and, because I reviewed Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood on Tuesday, I decided it was the perfect time to watch it. I’m a fan of Tom Hanks but I don’t like many of his films. We all know what I think about Big. So many people think Forrest Gump is a masterpiece but I hate it. His romantic-comedies with Meg Ryan? Forgettable. The Polar Express? It still gives me nightmares. The Terminal? Not even worth mentioning. I think it’s fair to say that, between all of his great roles, he’s made some dodgy choices. Was Splash going to be as wonderful as I remember it being or was I just a stupid kid who still liked mermaids?
There’s a scene in Splash in which Tom Hanks’ character, Allen, celebrates a night of sex with Daryl Hannah. He does this by singing ‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah’ and dancing. It is one of the most horrific things that I’ve ever seen and it made me super uncomfortable. I don’t like how this film tries to paint Tom Hanks as some kind of sex symbol anyway but to have him peacocking around is just too much. It’s possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever seen him do and I’ve watched The Polar Express and The Terminal. It’s even worse than that scene in Castaway when he uses an ice skate to perform oral surgery.
However, that scene aside, Splash is a pretty decent film and it’s not even aged that badly. Yes, if it were remade now, the mermaid would be rendered using CGI but it the film still makes it work. There are plenty of reaction shots to cover up Daryl Hannah’s transformation which look a bit silly. Needs must I guess. Ignore that and you have a very entertaining film. Tom Hanks is a comedic performer and he is charming and fun here. Daryl Hannah is perfect as the literal fish out of water and she is utterly adorable when Madison discovers the human world. Add in John Candy as Hanks’ waster older brother and you’ve got movie magic.
It’s a pretty simple but silly story that quite possibly wouldn’t have worked with anyone else. Hanks plays Allen, the owner of a fruit and veg supplier who, when he was a kid, had an encounter with a mermaid. A second encounter with the same mermaid years later causes his life to get turned upside down. The mermaid, played by Hannah, is able to leave the sea and walk on the land for 7 days. She and Allen spend their time together and quickly profess their love. But Madison knows that there is an expiration date. It’s already pretty complicated long before you consider the scientist who is following the pair trying to out Madison as a mermaid.
What Splash manages to do is handle all of the silly elements this film and balance them in such a way that it doesn’t feel like too much. It has plenty of adult humour to keep it moving and to give the fantasy romance a bit of an edge. John Candy adds something a bit adult that is perfectly countered with Eugene Levy’s slapstick turn as the scientist going after Madison. For the most part, this is the kind of fish out of water film that we’ve seen thousands of times before. Madison learns about human culture by watching TV and she makes plenty of missteps in public. She nearly gets run over by a cab and she goes on a mad shopping spree. It’s all very familiar but it isn’t presented as anything else. Director Ron Howard knows how silly the film is but he works with it. He embraces it. But he is clever enough to add in additional layers to give it more depth. The love story is sweet, there is a certain sexiness to it, and the underwater scenes are pure misty fantasy.
When I decided to rewatch this film, I really wasn’t expecting to like it quite so much but it was really good. Howard does a decent job here but the people deserving the real praise are Hanks and Hannah. They both manage to be funny and sweet without being too saccharine and annoying. It might not be the performance he is most remembered for now but Hanks really does a great job here. I’m going to have to rewatch this more often.