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Thursday, March 23, 2006


While I was away last week something fishy was going on at the Essex Cinemas and it still is. Karen Chapman, Assistant Manager (and the hardest working woman in show business), told me that pre-teen girls and their mothers were having all kinds of fun down in theatre 7 where they were bonding amidst the laughs and lessons of Aquamarine. Now, since it is no secret that I have the brain of 13 year old girl I just had to get in on this action even if the 13 year old girl’s brain I have is in the freezer at home with the rest of the body parts. I can relate. Trust me. I can relate. So in I went, with a pocket of gummy worms, the perfect food to catch a fish.

Aquamarine is a tale about a gal with one. She’s a mermaid, washed ashore and into the swimming pool at the resort owned by Claire’s grandparents. Claire (Emma Roberts, daughter of
Eric and youthful look-alike of aunt Julia Roberts) is an orphaned 13 year old who is spending the last gasp of summer with her best friend Hailey (singer Jo Jo Levesque), who is slated to move to Australia with her marine biologist mother in just a few days. The girls discover the mermaid and are elated to find that if they help her with her mission they shall be granted a wish. “Like a genie?” asks Claire to which Aquamarine (Sara Paxton, from tv's Summerland) replies in total seriousness “You don’t believe in genies do you?” a perfect twist considering her large scaly tail is splashing in the pool’s water as she is explaining the rules.

Aquamarine’s mission is to prove to her father that love exists. It sounds simple enough, but her
future hangs on her being able to find true love in three days or she shall be dragged back to the bottom of the sea and forced to marry a merman (and I don’t mean Ethel) she has no feelings for. Under the sea, love is a fallacy and marriages are arranged by parents as a matter of business rather than for the happiness of the children involved in the union. This is something Aquamarine is determined to rebel against and so she sets her sights on the first man she sees, hunky lifeguard Raymond (Jake McDorman, cute but with the acting range of a broken lava light).

Raymond is the beach god all the girls from 13 to 30 drool over and both Claire and Hailey consider it a noble sacrifice that they should give up their own non-existent “claims” on this guy to help Aquamarine snag her man so that they can benefit from her wish. The girls see this as a sure way to stay together as they will be able to wish for something to happen to prevent Hailey’s mother from taking the job in Australia after all.

Of course there are complications. Aquamarine miraculously grows legs during the daytime hours, but at sunset she reverts back to her finny self. She also has to avoid water by day as even a drop on her could cause her to go “Gremlins” and start thrashing about like a fish out of water, which pretty much describes her social skills as well.

Hailey and Claire have their work cut out for them. In three days they have to turn this gorgeous guppy into an adorable angelfish Raymond will be compelled to profess his love to in order to save her from a loveless (and extremely soggy) marriage. In addition to playing Pygmalion, the girls also have to contend with Cecilia (Arielle Kebbel, Dirty Deeds; Be Cool), who is without a doubt the most perfect caricature of the snotty rich high school girl who has ever lived. Cecilia makes the Heathers of the same-named film seem like Red Cross volunteers by comparison. She has her claws out for Raymond and she is willing to lie, insult, humiliate, and bully to get her way, all of which are painfully played out in various ways as she seeks to ruin any chances Aquamarine may have with Ray.

While all of this action is going on there are a swirl of sub-plots that are also brewing and which have more messages to deliver than a dozen after-school specials. In the three days the girls have left together they learn much about themselves and the road to maturity. Their selfish wish to keep Hailey’s mother from realizing the fruition of ten years of work by accepting the job in Australia is something both girls struggle with and come to understand is wrong. As much as the girls love one another and will miss each other they know that the separation will also force them to face their own fears of finding others their age to befriend. Claire also has to finally deal with the loss of her parents, who drowned, and accept that her fear of the sea needs to be conquered, and she does. Hailey vents about her own anger and grief that her father abandoned her and her mother for another woman. Together, they recognize that growing up can also mean putting others first and even growing apart, at least physically, as they agree that the wish is best abandoned because Hailey’s mother deserves her own life and satisfaction in her work even if it means the girls must sacrifice for it.

As for Aquamarine, she learns the biggest lesson of all. Love doesn’t happen overnight. Despite
her best efforts, Raymond is not going to fall in love with her in 72 hours. Love means more than a few dances and two dates. What she does find, however, is that there are other kinds of love, just as strong and important as romantic love, when she comes to understand that all Claire and Hailey have been willing to do for her as friends, even saving her life.

This is a slippery critter of a movie. It looks like silly bit of nothing, but it has many good lessons for young women to learn about loyalty, friendship, selflessness, and honesty. It may not appeal to boys, but does every movie need to? I’d call it a “chick flick” but that just seems wrong. It’s more of a salmon sermon or a Splash rehash. Either way, it’s a great mother-daughter afternoon at the Essex Cinemas and moves along swimmingly.

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