Aquamarine (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It's not a stretch to say that I am not a member of Aquamarine's target demographic. It's a good bet that about 90% of the film's viewers will be girls between the ages of 8 and 14. I'm sure the movie works better for them than it did for me. Still, all things considered, I have to admit that sitting through Aquamarine was not the most unpleasant recent cinematic experience I have had. The plot - a cliché-riddled, modern day amalgamation of two fairy tales ("The Little Mermaid" and "Cinderella") - won't win points for originality, but the screenplay includes some snappy dialogue, smart observations, and an uplifting message about the importance of friendship. And, although there are a fair number of stock characters, including the bitchy bitch and the studly stud, the protagonists are likable and nicely rounded. The problem faced by 20th Century Fox is selling the movie.

Aquamarine takes place in a Florida Beach resort during the last week of summer. This is a melancholy time for all school-age children, but more so for best friends Claire (Emma Roberts) and Hailey (Joanna 'JoJo' Levesque), who are about to be separated by oceans and time zones. Hailey's mother has received a plum job offer in Australia, and she's packing up and taking her daughter with her. Claire and Hailey, desperate not to be parted, pray for a miracle. That's when Aquamarine (Sara Paxton), a mermaid, arrives.

During a violent storm, she is swept in from the sea to end up in Claire's pool. After getting over the initial shock of finding a girl with a fishtail in Claire's backyard, the two girls bond with the newcomer. They learn a few facts about mermaid life and lore. Mermaids can grow legs, but only when the sun is out and provided they stay away from water. They can grant a wish to someone who helps them. And Aquamarine is in trouble with her daddy. She has refused an arranged marriage and is determined to prove to her father that the mythical emotion of "love" exists. To that end, she is determined to seduce a human boy. She chooses local lifeguard hunk Raymond (Jake McDorman) as her target. Claire and Hailey, wanting to earn the wish so they can stay together, agree to help. But there's a complication: Raymond is also being pursued by Cecilia (Arielle Kebbel), the resort's richest, most stuck up girl, and she doesn't believe in playing fair.

Most of what you expect to happen in Aquamarine, happens. There is a nice little twist near the end, and it allows the movie to close on a more mature note that it might have otherwise done. Betraying its roots in older, more familiar stories, the movie plays like a modern-day fairy tale, complete with a concluding moral. Each of the characters is allotted a fate in accordance with his/her actions during the film. Yet the overall predictability of the storyline is at least partially compensated for by a breezy approach and genial air. Aquamarine may not be deep, but at least it's not leaden.

I'm not familiar with the director or any of the leads. This is Elizabeth Allen's first feature foray behind the camera, and she captures the right tone for the material. The three young female stars all generate a sensation of déjà vu. Sara Paxton recalls a young Reese Witherspoon. Pop starlet JoJo brings to mind a slightly older singer/actress from her Freaky Friday, pre-paparazzi fodder days. (That would be Lindsey Lohan.) And Emma Roberts is the niece of Julia Roberts. All three have previous credits, but primarily in the kinds of TV shows it's unlikely an adult male would be familiar with.

As "tween" girl-oriented movies go, this one holds its own, although it's not in the same league as the recent best of these, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which boasted better acting, stronger direction, and a more satisfying story). Curmudgeonly critics like me may not be intoxicated by Aquamarine's froth, but the film is likely to make its target demographic giddy. So, it's a solid recommendation for young girls and those unfortunate parents trapped into chaperone duty. For everyone else, especially those possessing a Y chromosome, there's not much of interest. But then, you weren't planning to see it anyway, were you?

Aquamarine (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-03-03
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1