The films that lured Cher back to the movies

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After she won an Oscar for 1987’s Moonstruck, Cher found herself nervous as to what to tackle next – and it’d be a couple of years before she found the right project.

1987 was a hell of a year for Cher when it came to films. She’d actually debuted on the big screen in the 1960s, but by the start of the 80s she was a global superstar off the back of her much-loved music. She’d also had televisions success too, but as her music sales tailed off a little, she decided to give acting another go.

The project that got her back first of all was Come Back To The Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. A mouthful of a title certainly, but it was based on a Broadway production in which Cher starred. It was the late Robert Altman who cast her in that, and pivotally in the big screen adaptation that he subsequently made in 1982. Altman had faced resistance in casting Cher in the first place, but he stood his ground and his faith was richly rewarded. For Cher, her acting career was very much back on.

Across the following years in the early- to mid-80s, some key roles followed. She was cast by Mike Nicholas in Silkwood, again against some suspicion, but she had the last laugh on that one. She earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and then had a box office hit in the film Mask, for director Peter Bogdanovich (although the pair wouldn’t really get on during its making).

But it was a trio of movies that all ended up being released in 1987 that led in turn to a temporary retreat for her from cinema. How about this for three films in one year? She starred in the film Suspect, a commercial courtroom drama that did decent business. She co-starred in George Miller’s much-loved The Witches Of Eastwick, which was a huge hit. And then there was the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Moonstruck. If you’ve not seen this, it’s a superb romantic comedy co-starring Nicolas Cage. Not only would it win over audiences and take lots of cash at the box office, but it also won Cher a Best Actress Oscar.

The problem, though, was how do you follow that up? Her music career was back on the up at this stage, so there was still plenty to do. But film roles were being offered and scripts were now being sent her way. Far from being dismissed by Hollywood casting agents, she was now right at the top of the list.

However, as Cher would tell Film Review magazine back in May 1991, she was hitting something of a wall when it came to the movies. “After winning the Oscar for Moonstruck I was… scared witless, absolutely”, she admitted. As such, she turned some notable roles down.

She was offered the chance to co-star in the film Midnight Run opposite Robert De Niro for instance (a role that would have been gender-flipped for her). Director Martin Brest wasn’t keen on the idea and nor as it happens was Cher. Charles Grodin would take on the role. Likewise, she was offered one of the leads in the film The War Of The Roses, but turned the offer down. Kathleen Turner would take on the part in that production instead.

There were films she was after. She was beaten to the lead in She-Devil by Roseanne Barr. She was reportedly sounded out about starring in Thelma And Louise. She was also said to be in the running for roles in The Hunt For Red October and The Addams Family. But in the end, it was the first 30 pages of a script she was sent for a new comedy that finally persuaded her to take on another lead movie role.

That script was penned by June Roberts, based on a 1986 novel by Patty Dann, and it told of a woman in the 1960s with two daughers and a freewheeling approach to life. It was called Mermaids.

“I gotta tell you”, Cher said, “I was never in love with the script as much as I was in love with the first thirty pages. It reminded me of my experiences with my mother and sister”.

Cher signed on the dotted line, and for the first time in her career, she had the clout to sign off on her director and co-stars in the feature. She exerted this clout too.

Before Cher got involved, Lasse Hallstrom – who had broken through with the acclaimed My Life As A Dog – was set to direct the movie, and it would have been his first English-language feature. He started casting, and settled on Emily Lloyd to play one of the daughters in the film. Lloyd talks about this in her memoir, Wish I Was There, where she reveals she turned down five other roles to take on the project. One of those was the lead in a little movie that would become known as Pretty Woman.

Cher joined up, and filming got underway in early 1989. As Lloyd describes, “she had an ego as big as her hair but at that time, in early 1989, probably with good reason”. The pair didn’t click, not necessarily helpful given they were playing mother and daughter in the movie. Furthermore, Cher wasn’t happy with Hallstrom either, who it was felt was turning the film away from being a comedy into something darker. It was going to come down to a choice between star or director, and Orion Pictures went with the former.

Frank Oz then came in as his replacement, but he didn’t last much longer. The call next went into Private Benjamin helmer Richard Benjamin, and it was he who saw the film through to completion. Benjamin was Cher’s suggestion, saying at the time “I don’t know if this is going to be a good movie, but if it isn’t, it won’t be Dick’s fault”. She added, a slight at earlier directors, “he doesn’t want to come in and make this [“clucking” – Ed] Chekhov”.

Lloyd would leave the production soon afterwards too (and would take a damages case to court, settling on the second day of the hearing) and the core dynamic in the film would be between Cher and Winona Ryder instead (with a pre-The Addams Family Christina Ricci too). But the end result was really something. Not that Cher enjoyed making it, noting that “it was just the worst experience of my life” at the time, and that “Winona and I cried every night and every day”.

But the film really worked. More than that, the film – which also starred Bob Hoskins (another Cher suggestion) – is a rare piece of work. A female-led mainstream comedy, that got a Christmas 1990 release in the US, and a hit one at that. The $20m movie earned $35m at the box office, but more than that, it’s the kind of film that when its name is mentioned is remembered fondly by those who saw it at the time.

Furthermore, the title song from the movie, a cover of ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’, would give Cher an enormous hit. You might recall it…

Post-Mermaids Cher would dial down her film roles, doing some work with Robert Altman and being part of the ensemble for the superb TV film If These Walls Could Talk. But then, with a career firing on many fronts, she had her Oscar, she had her hits, and in Mermaids, she had the kind of film that stands out to this day as something different from 1990s mainstream Hollywood…


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