"Yay! Stigmata!"

© 2006, 20th Century Fox
All Rights Reserved

Best friends Claire (Emma Roberts) and Hailey (Joanna Levesque) are living in a Florida resort community, riding out the summer dreaming about hottie lifeguard Raymond (Jake McDorman), and fretting about their eventual parting in a week's time when Hailey moves away. After one strong stormy night, the girls find a mermaid named Aquamarine (Sara Buxton) in their pool. Finally free of her demanding father's wishes, Aquamarine wants to fall in love, making Claire and Hailey responsible for setting up the excited fish with Raymond.

"Aquamarine" (IMDb listing), with its collection of shopping montages, serious dialog about earrings, emphasis on BFFs, and fetishistic attitudes toward love, is the perfect film for 12 year-olds. Not even Hilary Duff has made a film this woozily specific to the tween audience, and this type of exact filmmaking helps "Aquamarine" succeed as a disarmingly charming movie.

Director Elizabeth Allen employs an unexpected amount of confidence with her debut feature film: speaking to the minds of pre-teen girls, but never condescending to the target demo. This is a picture that freshly observes the shriek-infused dialog between young friends, along with the awe of otherworldly magical beings and shirtless boys. Colorfully shot by David Hirschfelder ("The Weight of Water"), "Aquamarine" is a frothy, cute feature film that (for at least a good 70 minutes) should be painless for adults, and manna from heaven to girls.

Most of the charm that radiates from the film can be attributed to the three stars. Emma Roberts has a lopsided way with her line delivery, but she's awkwardly real where the Dakota Fannings of the world are far too polished and self-aware. Sara Buxton brings a soda pop fizz to Aquamarine, along with sweet commitment to the character's eternal sunshine. But it's Joanna Levesque who runs away with the movie. Being so far away from the intended audience, I've been told that Levesque's day job is that of a pop singer (under the name "JoJo"), and you can spot that poise in her unusual screen confidence and ability to effortlessly emote. She's fantastic here, and I hope to see many good things from her in the future.

In the final third of the film, "Aquamarine" begins to staple on too many subplots, including a wicked popular girl character (a conventional Arielle Kebble) who wants to torpedo Aquamarine's romantic aspirations. Pulling the tight focus away from the three main characters severs the merriment the film was embracing and pushes it into some seriously labored screenwriting obligations. While that doesn't destroy the film entirely, "Aquamarine" was better when it remained featherweight and responsive, not weighed down by tedious calculation.

Filmfodder Grade: B

Aquamarine posters