My brother, who is both a professional musician and the world's biggest music snob, has a pat answer he gives when asked what he thinks of a band he considers mediocre: "They're uh, good for what they are." Translated, this generally can be taken to mean that, while this particular band doesn't rise to the level he considers art, and they may not even be particularly talented, for the type of music they play, and the audience they're aiming for, they don't completely suck.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about Aquamarine. It's fluff, sure, it's certainly not as smart as other films aiming at its general target market (preteen and adolescent girls) - like Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, or even Ever After, a much better fairy tale film - but it's mostly forgettable and harmless fluff. It has the feel of a Disney or Nickelodeon film made for television, that somehow, inexplicably, made its way to the big screen instead.
The film, directed by Elizabeth Allen and adapted from the book by Alice Hoffman, is a lot like Practical Magic, another book by the same author, which in 1998 was made into another completely forgettable film starring Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, and a seriously slumming Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing. Both films start with stories with a lot of potential, but don't quite live up to their possibilities. Whether this is an inherent problem with adapting Hoffman's books to screen, or that her books have simply had the misfortune to be saddled with inept scriptwriters and lackluster directors, I can't say.
Unlike Practical Magic, Aquamarine doesn't even have the benefit of a few really spectacular actors struggling to flesh out the half-baked, one-dimensional characters provided by the script. You have your two best friends, Hailey (Jo-Jo) and Claire (Emma Roberts - as in, niece of Julia Roberts) who are totally dependent on each other. Hailey's father abandoned her and her mom; Claire's parents drowned, and the two girls serve as each other's life preservers in the stormy sea of early adolescence. You have your hot lifeguard the girls have major crushes on. And you have your mean, popular girls, led by the meanest one of all, Cecelia (Arielle Kebbel), who has her sights set on said lifeguard. Oh, yes - and you have a mermaid who has three days to make someone love her, who also sets her eyes on the same lifeguard (apparently there are no other cute, shirtless boys running around the Florida town the film is set in).
The story itself is moderately interesting, if taken for what it is: it's a modern fairytale about a mermaid who's run away from home to avoid being married off in an arranged marriage. During a storm (caused by her father), she washes up into the swimming pool at the beach club owned by Claire's grandparents. The mermaid, Aquamarine (Sara Paxton), meets Claire and Hailey, and they agree to help her make hot lifeguard Raymond fall in love with her in three days, so her father will release her from her arranged marriage. See, love doesn't exist as a concept in Mermaid land, and her father doesn't believe in it, so if she can prove to him that it's real, she wins. Claire and Hailey agree to help Aquamarine in part because she promises them a wish in return for their help - and Claire and Hailey desperately need a wish, because Hailey's mom is about to haul her off to Australia, thus separating the best friends forever. Aquamarine ends up helping the girls as well, as they learn from her what they've been trying to learn from a stack of teen magazines - how to live life to the fullest, overflow with genuine self-confidence, and make a cute boy fall head-over-heels for you in three days.
The trio at the heart of the movie try gamely to do a good job with what they have to work with. Roberts bears a strong on-screen resemblance to both her famous aunt and a young Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Jo-Jo (note to young actresses: going with the "one name" thing only works when other people start calling you only by your first name, not when you make it up yourself) looks a lot like Lindsay Lohan back in her Freaky Friday days (you know, before she started morphing into Paris Hilton). Roberts (perhaps benefiting from some acting coaching from her aunt?) does a decent job here of getting into the heart of a character who's scared of life, and she and Jo-Jo are believable as joined-at-the-hip best friends. They do a lot of girly squealing throughout the film, but I blame that on the director and the script. These characters are paper dolls. We learn nothing of their interests in life outside of boys, makeup, shopping and teen magazines - not exactly the image of young womanhood I want my own daughter's head filled with. Of the three leads, Paxton has the most acting experience, and she does a passable job of charming as the wide-eyed, innocent mermaid learning about people.
The supporting cast is utterly flat and one-dimensional; this is as much the fault of the script as the actors. Jake McDorman gets stuck with the boring role of pretty-boy eye candy - we are treated to manifold closeups of his perfect white teeth, manly flexing biceps and killer abs. Kebbel overplays the snotty bitch routine in the role of bad girl Cecilia, who is about as stereotypical and boring as a pretty, rich bitch can get in a film - nothing we haven't seen in every teen movie ever made. As for the rest of the characters, well, I'm sure they were there, but who really cares? Aquamarine isn't as insultingly bad as some films aimed at this target market, but neither is it a film that's going to have any lasting impact (one hopes) on the future generation. It's just over 90 minutes of popcorn entertainment, gone from your consciousness by the time you drive home.