Mermaids are not real. Of course, if there was one out there, she’d probably be pretty lonely. Sandy (Marlee Learner) isn’t actually a mermaid. But she plays one at parties, and despite the pride she wears the fake tail with, it is still a solitary lot. At the same time, lonely little girls are definitely a thing, and together, Sandy and Camille (Anabelle Murphy) show us the power of two in writer/director Madi Stine’s Out of Water.
We start as expected. Under water, the bubbling oxygen of Sandy’s breath is life affirming, and so is Robert Nachman’s cinematographic framing of the sunlight above. Surfacing to the wonder fulfilling score (Zach Lemmon), Learner’s smile makes us believe, but poor Camille is having no part of the overall sentiment.
Murphy has the angry little girl look down. Stoic and showing no signs of amusement, if a little boy was around, he would run for cover.
We don’t have to wait long either to understand why. Camille is celebrating her birthday and her mother (Andi Wagner) does the debilitating honors. Mom is getting drunk with her friends, and Wagner channels her neglectful supervision without even pretending to be in denial. Then beyond her years, Murphy counters with a searing leer, and while Mom is oblivious, we almost feel like it’s our fault.
Sandy obviously sees the problem and decides the best she can do is brighten this moment for her new little friend. No words necessary, Murphy’s resigned facial retort sends another message. “Does this silly girl think she can make a difference with the wave of her ponytail?”
Ouch. Then Camille is gone, and with the saccharine Hawaiian soiree music playing in the background, we are meant to feel that Camille’s plight is far from ordinary. So Sandy simply goes on with her day, and in her car to the next gig, we realize mermaiding is actually a passion.
Distracted while driving for sure, Sandy applies her makeup, puts on the glitter and gives a nod to the bobblehead mermaid that is secured to the dashboard. “All good girl, no need to get your tail in a twist,” she’s really assuring herself.
Of course, the occupation is also a substitute for the emptiness, but Sandy makes the denial work. Camille isn’t done with Sandy, though.
The little girl has hitched a ride in the trunk, and out she pops to Sandy’s surprise. A big problem, the situation obviously carries great potential legal problems. “Mermaids don’t do well in jail,” Sandy makes the case to bring Camille home immediately.
But despite the angry baseline set, Murphy switches gears and has all the appealing powers of persuasion that her cuteness merits. Resistance is futile, the duo embarks on an unsanctioned adventure.
So of like mind, they can’t help connect, and the point is reinforced because every other character in the film is out of frame or focus. In their own world, so to speak, the actors chemistry cuts across the age difference so seamlessly that the generational divide completely dissolves.
Endearingly, the hedge is toward the child side and viewers will have a hard time not giving into the dynamic that Murphy and Learner create. On the other hand, Camille and Sandy are still broken people, and their connection is destined to unravel.
The good news is that out of conflict people can grow closer, and the chance to heal takes the short to a whole other level. These two will never again be fish out of water, and the next time you’re alone. . . you never know who will be there to throw you a lifeline.