A boat drags fishing net through the water. Its owner, Syracuse (Colin Farrell), finds a young woman (Alicja Bachleda-Curus) in his net. He immediately begins resuscitating her until she can breathe. She is disoriented and doesn’t know where she is. She said she was dead and asks why she’s alive. He gets her inside the cabin of the boat and puts a blanket over her. He says he’s going to take her to a hospital but she doesn’t want to go. She insists that she doesn’t want to be seen by anyone. He asks if she’s a crazy person who escaped from the asylum when she threatens to jump into the water again.
He says he knows a place where no one will see her. He takes her to what was once his mother’s house. She’s been long dead so he takes her there and wraps her up with a blanket and gives her some sandwiches. He tells her that he has to leave and lets her stay in his mother’s house. She examines the place once he’s gone.
Syracuse runs back to his house and picks up his wheelchair bound daughter from his ex wife, Maura’s house. He carries his daughter to the mobile dialysis for a checkup. Syracuse tells his daughter a story about a fisherman who pulled in his nets and discovered a woman. His daughter asks if she was a seal or a mermaid. He awkwardly ends the story by saying she remembered drowning. His daughter tells him it’s a bad story. His daughter gets an automatic wheelchair so that she can move around. He drops her at home where Maura yells at him for not being on time to ask the doctor about a compatible kidney.
The next day, Syracuse returns to his mother’s house and finds the young woman still there. He’s not surprised she isn’t gone but admits he thought he dreamt finding her. She asks if she can go fishing with Syracuse but Syracuse says no at first. He eventually says yes and the pair goes out to sea. He asks her name but she simply tells him to call her Ondine. He asks what it means and she tells him that it’s the name of a girl who came from the water. As Syracuse fishes, Ondine sings. He pulls out a cage which has something inside of it and he asks her to keep singing. He says that she’s helped him get good luck: He’s captured a surprising number of lobsters. He’s never caught lobsters before, so he’s very happy. He puts a few in a lobster cage and says he’ll save them for a rainy day. He takes the rest to sell them and tells her she’ll get a share of the money. She tells him again she doesn’t want to meet anyone.
Syracuse goes and gets money for the lobsters. He buys a dress but steals a bra and some other things. Syracuse and Annie, his daughter, race down the street. He continues the story: The woman he found sings in a language he doesn’t understand and lobsters come to his cage. Annie insists that the woman in the story is a seal and Syracuse insists it’s his story for her, not an actual story. Syracuse brings Ondine the clothes and some food. Annie drives her chair down to her grandmother’s old house. Ondine kisses Syracuse for the dress and she asks if she can clean up the house. He asks how long she’s staying, and she says it depends on him. He says she can stay forever, happily ever, once upon a time. He tells her that he’s been telling his daughter a fairytale. Annie hides behind a crate and then goes to the library to research the seal.
Syracuse arrives at the local church and the priest tells him confession is not a replacement for Alcoholics Anonymous. He tells him that he’s been sober for 2 years. He tells him that he’s dreamt that Maura’s boyfriend has died and he’s back with Maura and he’s terrified because he’s back with her and he’s drinking. He confesses that he stole some women’s clothes for a woman he met. The priest asks where they met and Syracuse confesses that he pulled her out of the water.
That night Ondine puts on the bra and panties Syracuse stole for her and tries on the dress. She then puts on Syracuse’s mother’s old coat in the mirror. That morning, Annie goes down to the house and sees Ondine in the water. Annie quotes Through the Looking Glass in saying “Curiouser and Curiouser.” Annie tells Ondine that she knew that she’s a seal and her father was telling her a real story. Annie is persistent in her belief that Ondine is a seal. Annie wants to be friends and tells Ondine to be honest with her. Ondine tells Annie that it feels different underwater and Annie tells Ondine that seals can bury their seal coat for 7 years, shed 7 tears and be happy with a lands folk. Ondine says she’ll see Annie again and kisses Annie on the cheek.
Several kids on bike come by and ask if Annie can do tricks. Annie stands up and one kid rides her chair into the water. The kid breaks her chair and leaves her behind. She’s forced to push her chair all the way home. Her mother’s Scottish boyfriend dries off her chair and Annie asks about Scottish seals.
A mysterious man looks out to see and eats fish from a tin with a knife. Ondine floats on a barge in the sea and Syracuse comes by on a boat to ask her if she wants to come fishing again. A boat drives by and Ondine hides from view. Syracuse tries to tell her to guide the boat and she does so…with her foot. Syracuse is perplexed by her behavior. She starts singing before he can ask her anything. When Syracuse brings up his net, he finds it full of salmon, a rare catch. She says “Curiouser and Curiouser.” Syracuse is amused at the fact that she uses the phrase his daughter says.
Two policemen come aboard and ask how Syracuse caught the Salmon. They don’t believe him and search for Salmon catching equipment. They see that it’s dry but also find Ondine in the ship’s hold. She tells them that he caught them by luck. Once the police leave, she asks what they will say. The mysterious man rides past Syracuse’s boat and sees Ondine on Syracuse’s boat. Syracuse presents his Salmon to the fishery and gets paid. He asks Ondine if he can buy her anything and she asks to be taken to the dressing store. Annie comes by and asks what they are doing. She helps Ondine choose some clothes.
Ondine asks Annie if Annie can swim. Ondine offers to give Annie lessons. She strips to her underwear and the two go swimming. Syracuse goes to find Annie but only finds Maura. Maura asks about Ondine but Syracuse is very vague. Ondine takes Annie out to the raft and finds something in the seaweed. Annie thinks it’s Ondine’s seal coat. The duo buries it. Ondine insists that Annie keep it secret.
The mysterious man watches Maura’s boyfriend compete in a wrestling event. He sees a seal in the water and tosses a fish into the water. Annie and Ondine go to the event and Annie wants Ondine to prove she is not a seal. She drives her chair into the end of the barge and falls into the water. Ondine and several men dive in after her to save her. Syracuse brings Annie home and Maura is immediately concerned. Syracuse asks Ondine what happened. She tells him that Annie did it on purpose. Ondine asks why his ex calls him Circus the Clown and he explains that he was a drunk. She asks why he stopped drinking and he tells her that Annie was his reason to stop. He came back on night and found Annie unconscious and her mother drunk. She kicked Syracuse out because he wanted to be sober.
Annie learns that the mysterious man talked to her mother and asked about Ondine…but she went by a different name. She goes to bed and has a dream about the mysterious man. That night, Syracuse and Ondine have sex. Afterwards, she goes out into the rain.
Syracuse goes to the confessional again. The priest calls him Circus and Syracuse confesses to having slept with her. He tells her that he feels something wonderful or terrible could happen. Syracuse leaves the confessional and is approached by the mysterious man. He asks her about Ondine and he asks what he calls her. Syracuse gives a smartass answer and drives away.
Syracuse takes Annie to the dialysis machine. Afterwards he brings her home but his Maura is not back. Syracuse asks where Maura drinks now. Meanwhile the mysterious man goes to Syracuse’s mother’s house to try and find Ondine. Ondine hides in the remains of a gardening structure and hides from the man. Syracuse arrives at the bar and asks for the keys to the house. Annie tells Syracuse she’ll stay. He goes back to his mother’s house and finds it ruined. He can’t find Ondine but he finds her under a bridge. She tells him that the mysterious man has come back. At the bar, a drunken Maura takes Annie’s chair and drives around in it. Maura then gets in her car with her boyfriend and Annie but crashes the car into the car of the mysterious man and her boyfriend is thrown out of the car and killed.
Syracuse tells Ondine to tell the man to piss off. Syracuse tells her that seals get one wish: Ondine says she wishes Annie would get better. They drive by the accident and Syracuse asks what happened. He’s frantic for Annie and the priest tells him that she’s alright because she wore her seatbelt. At the hospital, Ondine asks what is happening. The mysterious man is carted by her and screams at her. The doctors tell Syracuse that Maura’s boyfriend had a donor card and was a suitable replacement for one of Annie’s kidneys. They operate and give Annie his kidneys.
They have a funeral for the man and spread his ashes into the water. Maura spreads the man’s ashes and throws the urn into the water. She insists that Syracuse drink at the wake. He ends up drink and goes to the dock. The mysterious man follows him to his boat. He finds her in the hold of his boat. He asks what happened. He said he’s going to take her home and drives the boat out to sea. He asks Ondine who the man is and he drags her away. He takes her somewhere she’ll be safe. Syracuse finishes his bottle and gets back on his boat. He leaves her behind. He tells her that they don’t belong together and even though it’s not how fairytales end, that’s how this one does. He drives away as she screams that she has to say goodbye to Annie.
She stays on the island that Syracuse left her and walks the shore. She takes off her coat and boots and throws it on the shore before swimming away. The priest drives by on his bike and sees Syracuse drunk and asleep in a tree. He asks where the priest was when he needed him and tells him that he’s fallen off the wagon. The priest tells Syracuse that misery is easy, it’s happiness you have to work at. Syracuse takes Annie home from the hospital. She asks what happened to Ondine but all he will tell her is that she going home.
Syracuse wakes up the next morning and makes Annie lunch. He goes to the bathroom and hears the song Ondine was singing on the television. He realizes his mistake and leaves Annie watching television. He gets in his boat and goes to the island to look for Ondine. She tells him that she saw seals when she went swimming. She told him she was going to swim with the seals in the water but she changed her mind. Syracuse tells her that she heard her song. He asks her to tell him the truth. Ondine humors him with the seal story and then tells her the truth: She was a prisoner and a drug mule from Romania, the coast guard came and she was forced to dive into the water and swim with a bag full of heroin since the trafficker couldn’t swim. She wore herself out in the waves and lost the bag and sank until Syracuse’s net caught her and dragged her to the surface. The seal coat was the bag of heroin, which the mysterious wants back. He asks Ondine her real name and she tells him that it’s Joanna.
They return to Syracuse’s house and the mysterious man is waiting for them. Syracuse attacks him but his accomplice points a gun at Syracuse. Joanna takes them to where she buried the “seal coat.” Annie moved it and the mysterious man threatens to kill Annie if they don’t give him the bag. Annie hid it in Syracuse’s lobster trap. They take the boat out and Annie throws the accomplice off the boat while Syracuse tackles the mysterious man off the side of the boat where he drowns.
Joanna is taken away by the police and Syracuse finds out that she’ll be deported unless she becomes a national. He goes to the priest and tells her that he plans to marry her to keep her to stay. Annie goes to the confession and asks if men can marry seals (jokingly). Joanna and Syracuse get married and they take Annie out to sea on the boat.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Syracuse (Colin Farrell) finds a young woman in his fishing net whose singing seems to make him a more prosperous fisherman. His daughter Annie, who has failing kidneys and needs a transplant, believes that the young woman, Ondine, is a seal who turned human. Syracuse used to be a drunk and gave it all up for his daughter. His ex-wife, Maura, and her boyfriend get into a crash. The boyfriend dies but is a kidney match for Annie. Ondine is revealed to be Joanna, a former drug mule whose owner forced her to swim away from the coast guard where she nearly drowned. The owner pursues her throughout the film to recover his heroin. Syracuse knocks him off his boat once he threatens Annie and Joanna and the owner drowns. Syracuse marries Joanna to keep her in the country and they take Annie sailing.
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