I was in high school the first time I saw the 1984 movie Splash, and I hadn't seen it again until I rented the DVD the other night. I remember liking it a lot when I saw it back in the 1980s, thinking it was a sweet film and about as close to a screwball comedy as you might get at that time. It's been more than 20 years, and I was interested to see if I still enjoyed the film and if it held up well. Splash is still entertaining, but I'm not as delighted with the film as I was back in my teen years. Admittedly, I feel this way about a lot of 1980s comedies, with a few notable exceptions (The Blues Brothers). The style of humor doesn't seem to work quite as well, either because I'm too old or because American comedy has changed in certain ways.
I probably don't have to recount the plot, but in case you forgot, Splash is about an unlucky-in-love average guy from New York (Tom Hanks) who encounters a wonderful woman new to NYC who turns out to be a mermaid (Daryl Hannah). Like most romantic-comedy heroines with secrets, she doesn't tell him about the mermaid thing until it's too late, and while he's madly in love, he's a little confused by her amazing speed in learning English, her odd dining habits, and so forth. Meanwhile, a nerdy scientist (Eugene Levy) has figured out that "Madison" (yes, this movie probably started the trend of naming babies after streets and other geographical locations) is a mermaid, and is determined to find concrete proof. The movie was directed by Ron Howard, and was the breakout film for himself as well as Hanks and Hannah.
The first glimpse of Tom Hanks looking so very young, almost painfully so, provides an amusing little jolt. Unfortunately, it is followed by the realization that young Hanks didn't have quite the acting technique of older Hanks -- or perhaps he was simply engaging in what was considered appropriate straight-man characterization in Eighties comedies. His character isn't very sympathetic, even verging on the annoying, and the movie spends too much time in the beginning at a wedding where Hanks is moaning about his seeming inability to love. It's an unusually long setup for a comedy; we don't see Hannah until maybe 30 minutes into the film. As with Hanks, I believe Hannah has improved with age, and I liked her role in Kill Bill, Vol. 2 much more than her doll-like mermaid here. Her character in Splash has a jerkiness to her movements that combined with her spaciness, perhaps was supposed to indicate the mermaid's awkwardness in her new surroundings, but instead reminded me of actress Geena Davis in 1980s films, making me wonder if this was some sort of standard female acting style from that era.
The one aspect of Splash that holds up beautifully in contemporary times is John Candy, playing Hanks' brother. Perhaps it's because of the wistful feeling you get when you watch someone so entertaining who died too early in their career -- I'm starting to feel that way throughout most of The Blues Brothers, sadly, since most of the actors from that movie are now dead. But Splash included an unusually good role for Candy, in which he was able to be raucously funny at times and yet touchingly serious at others. He plays the one sensible character in this movie, the one who all but smacks some sense into Hanks' character whenever he's not sure what to do about his odd new girlfriend. Eugene Levy is burdened with too much dumb physical humor, as his character sustains injury after injury, but he still manages a few good comic moments.
Splash was one of the first released under Disney's Touchstone label, which was established to signify that the film was suited more for grownups than for children. The 20th anniversary DVD of Splash includes a commentary from director Ron Howard, producer Brian Glazer, and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. There are no deleted scenes, but instead we can watch the audition tapes for Hanks and Hannah. The auditions are interesting -- Hanks and Hannah are both much more subtle than they are in the movie -- but went on for a little too long, and I cut both off early.
Splash wasn't a bad rental, but I don't like it enough to want to own the DVD. I prefer the movie that the above filmmakers and writers made just before it -- the 1982 comedy Night Shift with Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler. Now, however, I'm starting to wonder how well that film will hold up if I watch it again ... I'm not sure I want to take the risk. And I'm wondering one more thing: How long will it be before some genius plans to remake Splash? It's been more than 20 years and the movie was a critical and commercial success -- if studios are remaking Dirty Dancing and Adventures in Babysitting, wouldn't Splash be on their short list? I should start a Splash pool (no pun intended) where we all guess when a remake will be announced.