‘Aquamarine’ is for little mermaids only

Film centers on love under the sea ‘ for those under age 12

by Katie Wilber

I would have liked “Aquamarine” more if it were released a decade ago.

But as of last week I was a college kid in a theater full of ‘tweens clutching shiny purses and slushies. I felt, ahem, a bit like Disney’s Ariel. All I wanted was to be part of their world.

I can only imagine how the few fathers in the theater felt. They looked as though they might have preferred “plowing a drill through their temples” to watching this film, as my companion so eloquently put it.

“Aquamarine” was full of the bubbly songs and the cute clichés that young teenagers thrive on, but the sugary sweetness occasionally was balanced by the film’s themes of self-awareness, trust and love.

Claire and Hailey, 13-year-old best friends, are spending their last days together at a Florida beach club before Hailey moves to Australia with her mother. A monstrous storm leaves a mermaid stranded in the club’s pool.

She tells the girls she’s run away from her arranged marriage and has three days to find love or her father will force the wedding to proceed. She’ll grant the girls a wish if they help her, and they promptly agree to make a gorgeous blond lifeguard – because what other kind is there? – at the beach club fall in love with the mermaid.

Don’t forget about the girls’ nemesis, the overly tanned, bleached-blond Cecelia who also is infatuated with the lifeguard. A good portion of the comedy comes from the typical humiliation these popular and not-so-popular adolescent girls put one another through, such as when Aquamarine spits water (as though she’s a fountain) on two of Cecilia’s cohorts.

Despite an overload of “sea jargon” like the “shell phone” that Aquamarine’s angry Poseidon-like father calls her on and epithets like “bull-shark” and “oh, crabs,” the movie is an appealing coming-of-age flick with just a bit of substance behind its saccharine scenery. The screenplay could have done without lines like Raymond the lifeguard’s “You’re not like other girls around here” and Cecilia’s “There’s something fishy about that girl.” Oh, look! A cliché that also serves as dramatic irony! The audience knows Aquamarine is a mermaid, but they don’t!

A few issues cast a slight pall over the lightness of lifeguard love. Claire lost her parents in a sailing accident and refuses to go in the water. Hailey gets angry with her mother, saying she’d rather live with Claire until she’s 18. But, eventually, she realizes her mother’s career deserves the opportunities Australia offers.

Emma Roberts and Joanna “JoJo” Levesque – cast as Claire and Hailey, respectively – are endearing as the two young girls. Levesque is better known as a recording artist than an actress, but she’s convincing as a girl who’s angry at the world and doesn’t know what to do about it.

“Aquamarine” is meant for that theater full of Girl Scouts. It’s a movie about developing trust, not only with others, but also with oneself. It’s about love in all its forms, from giddy first love to family love to love between friends.

And hey, I guess we need movies like this, even if they’re a few years too late for our generation. Even if I felt like – dare I say it – a fish out of water.