★ ★ ★ ☆
“Mermaids,” a new documentary from Toronto filmmaker Ali Weinstein, isn’t a historical look at marine folklore or the history of the Starbucks’ logo. Stories of the underwater half-fish, half-human beings luring sailors to their death have been written for centuries but Weinstein takes a humanist approach, deep diving into the lives of people living the mermaid fantasy.
In 75 minutes the film introduces us to women for whom the wearing of a prosthetic tail is a transformative act. There’s Cookie De Jesus, an incest survivor (whose husband tailors her tails) whose love of dressing as a mermaid helped her overcome feelings of worthlessness. We meet Rachel, half of a mother, daughter mermaid team, a handful of the famed Weeki Wachee mermaids of Spring Hill, Florida and Julz, a transgender woman who found acceptance in the mermaid community.
Weinstein let’s the women do the talking here, presenting slices of their lives. The thing that binds them is the inclusive and empowering nature of the mermaid world. “All tails are welcome here,” says one woman.
“Mermaids” doesn’t delve much deeper than that, but it’s an intriguing and positive snapshot of a subculture. Visually Weinstein keeps things interesting with beautiful underwater cinematography, but the film’s strength is its message. “You’re half fish and half human,” says one mermaid, “and I think the best of both.”
3 ½ STARS