Whether fondly remembered as 'that movie your teenage self snuck into repeatedly to try to glimpse Darryl Hannah in the nude' or retroactively scrutinized as 'that hazy 80s rom-com starring Tom Hanks, a mermaid, and Tom Hanks' hair,' you'd be forgiven for dismissing Ron Howard's fantasy rom-com as more 'All Wet' than a Splash. But lo: the years have been kind to this one. Splash, silly and disposable as it might look, holds up, and then some. It's enjoyably zany, deceptively intelligent, and resonantly sweet, and a prototype for one of the most enduring romantic comedies of its decade.
Okay, sure - yes, it is a hazy, fairly dopey 80s rom-com, bringing with it all the tropes you'd expect, starring Tom Hanks, his hair, a mermaid. And yes, you can glimpse Darryl Hannah in the nude (though if that's all you're here for, shame on you, you John Candy coin-dropping-skirt-peeker, you!). But Splash has so much more to offer than its bare minimum. For one, it sparkles with deceptively subtle and funny dialogue throughout, making its thoroughly silly premise surprisingly easy to drift along with, scoff-free. This is hugely helped by Howard's propensity for odd little details, with plentiful improv cutaways (I'll eat an entire lobster, shell and all, if "let's pee down his air tube" factored in the script) to the specificity of the tribulations of Hanks' produce-supplying profession lending the film the fresh, bouncy vibrancy of an SCTV or SNL sketch.
Hanks and Hannah's romance, cheerfully nonsense a scenario as it is, is likewise oddly tender and easy to invest in. It's chock full of adorably iconic snippets (the fountain; what's likely the most memorable lobster scene outside of Annie Hall), with just enough of a snarky undercurrent to bite back excessively saccharine overtones. There's a great gag in Hannah's Madison learning English from television commercials, but speaking in crass advertising soundbites, and while Hanks' somewhat pushy marriage obsession may play as dated, there's something oddly refreshing about a PG rom-com being so comparatively transparent about the protagonists' sexual relationship. All this, and only a single, fairly tolerable, Rita Coolidge ballad on the 'dated 80s music' front, to boot!
By the time we segue into the second act E.T.-style scientific scariness, it's all the more sombre and distressing by contrast, with a sneaky undercurrent of animal activism to boot (again: check out the sequence of Madison wilting in her cramped aquarium tank, and tell me Howard has nothing more on his mind than Hollywood froth). It's a substantially above-average motivation for the tired cliché of the second act romantic complication, and helps add scope to Hanks' sad sack droopiness while keeping him sympathetic. It all gets a tad unhinged by the time Howard decides to go all out with an action chase sequence bang (the prior non-sequitur dinner with the President feels a bit tacked on as well), but it's still all good, engaging fun, with enough of a daftly sweet ending to tie it all up with a glittery, sequined bow (from Saks Fifth Avenue, natch).
Still, there's no forgetting that, cultural currency-wise, Splash is largely remembered as the breakout hit cementing Tom Hanks as a bankable leading man. Watching him here, it's no surprise as to why - he's nearly bursting with exasperated charm and manic energy, flitting from angsty meltdowns bemoaning his inability to love to his flamboyant gestures of finally expressing it, all encapsulating his patented everyman charisma to a tee. Similarly, Daryl Hannah is almost unbearably sweet as lovestruck mermaid Madison, projecting a pristinely otherworldly vibe that makes her all the more credible and likable. As Hanks' cheerfully lowlife brother, John Candy essays his zany, sleazy windbag persona to slapstick, one-liner-riffing perfection. He's absolutely hysterical, only to subsequently pull the rug out from viewers and launch into an unexpectedly impassioned, sentimental monologue that makes you rethink his entire character from the onset. Finally, Eugene Levy chews scenery with the ferocity of a deranged, starving rat, as the jilted scientist desperate to expose Madison's existence, and Levy's tenacious commitment to his character's sadistic, braying weirdness makes him all the funnier and more sympathetic.
Splash may trot through the gamut of tried-and-true rom-com clichés (this time with more mermaids), but does so with such a twinkle in its eye and enough genuine, heartfelt material at play, that it's nigh irresistible, and infectiously watchable. But what's that you say: a remake in the works? With Channing Tatum as the (**feeble Zoolander cough**) Mer-man? Well, if it's anywhere near as sweet, clever, and full of unpredictable silliness as its predecessor? Dive in, Channing.
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