On the Toronto tip it’s Burl, here to review some low-budget Canadiana! The picture under review today is a small character comedy that made a pretty big noise in Canada back in the late 80s, mainly because not all that much else was happening at the time! But it’s also a genuine little charmer, and quite rightly served as a solid career-starter for its director, Patricia Rozema! The picture is called I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing!
The story is told in flashback and narrated by flibbertigibbet goose-gal office temp Polly, played by Sheila McCarthy from Die Hard 2! Polly is recording her reminiscences into a video camera, and really it’s more of a confession! It all begins when she takes a position at a small Toronto art gallery located either in a church, or on Church Street, or both! The woman who runs the gallery, known to Polly simply as The Curator, is played by Paule Baillargeon from Jesus of Montreal, and with her Quebecois accent, apparently total knowledge of art, and big city sophistication, she instantly captures Polly’s heart!
Polly’s ardour is not quite romantic, and Polly herself seems nominally heterosexual, but only because her blinkered mentality can’t conceive of any other type of orientation - ha ha, she does not think the mermaids will sing to her! So it’s a big shock to her when The Curator’s sometime girlfriend Mary Joseph, played by the author and part-time actor Ann-Marie MacDonald, appears on the scene! Ha ha, and when Polly witnesses a liplock between the ladies over a closed-circuit television camera artwork, she’s as shocked as if they’d taken off and flown around the room, buzzing like mosquitoes!
This doesn’t diminish her attraction to The Curator, though! And as it happens, Polly is a part-time photographer of things she finds interesting – an Instagrammer avant la lettre, ha ha! – and she packages up her pictures and sends them anonymously to her boss in a pitch to have them displayed in the gallery! But, oh woe, The Curator dismisses them as pure cront, and Polly is heartbroken! She then discovers a great secret The Curator holds, or rather a small series of great secrets, and so realizes that people are not always what they seem, and is thus finally and completely (but not, one hopes, permanently) disillusioned! This leads to her climactic action, and Polly’s subsequent fleeing of the gallery and recording of her confession, and finally to an unexpected and unlikely coda!
Ha ha, this is such a Toronto movie, and as a one-time resident of that city I find that aspect ingratiating! It’s otherwise the sort of whimsical character romance that might come out of any city; but, on an absurdly low budget ($35,000, or so they say), Rozema manages to dress it up with fantasy sequences in which Polly flies around like Superman or else climbs, and falls from, office towers, and she gets some nice cinematography from Douglas Koch, who more recently shot David Cronenberg’s new Crimes of the Future! The MVP of this picture, though, is McCarthy, whose goony-bird looks and seemingly effortless performance are perfect for the tale!
In its low-key way the picture has a lot to say, and if it’s occasionally facile and glib we can chalk that up to the quilicis of youth! It’s an impressive work which made an outsized impression on Canadian cinema, and if it doesn’t deserve all the accolades it got at the time, it deserves a good many of them! I give I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing three suction cups!