As summer draws to a close in Baybridge, Fla., best friends Claire and Hailey are making the most of their last five days together before Hailey and her mother move to Australia. A final sleepover during a fierce thunderstorm finds the girls playfully offering a mock prayer to the "gods of hurricanes" in hopes that Hailey might dodge the intercontinental move and remain with her best junior high bud.
Much to their amazement, their prayer is answered—in the form of a teenage mermaid named Aquamarine who's stranded by the storm in a nearby swimming pool. The girls rescue the beautiful creature (who magically sprouts legs during the day) and discover that she's facing a problem of her own. Aquamarine is on the run from her father, who has arranged her marriage to a merman she doesn't love.
Her father refuses to believe that love actually exists, but if she can prove him wrong in three days, he'll let her off the hook (so to speak) regarding her impending wedding. If Claire and Hailey can help her find her true love, Aquamarine in turn promises to grant them a wish. Their hearts' desire is a foregone conclusion: that Hailey might remain in Florida.
Enter Raymond, a lifeguard whom the girls have been crushing on all summer. With stacks of teen mags such as CosmoGIRL! as their guide, Claire and Hailey mentor Aquamarine in the fine art of fishing for boys. If she can land love in three days, everyone will live happily ever after, it seems. But Claire and Hailey's nemesis, the rich and catty Cecilia, is determined to nab Raymond herself. And she's beginning to suspect there's something fishy about Aquamarine, too.
Hailey and Claire selflessly labor to set Aquamarine up with Raymond (even though they both like him). Claire is paralyzed by fear of water because her parents died in a boating accident, but Aquamarine challenges her to take healthy risks, saying, "I don't think [your parents] would have wanted you to be afraid of life. They would have wanted you to make friends with it." The mermaid also tells Raymond that friendship is more important than traveling to exotic places ("It's not where you are, it's who you're with"). When Aquamarine's hopeful belief in love begins to fade, Hailey reassures her that it's real: "I know there's a reason people want it so much: It's the closest thing we have to magic."
Significantly, Raymond doesn't fall quickly for Aquamarine's charms. He likes her, but he refuses to pledge his love until he's gotten to know her better. In this, he demonstrates a level of maturity and realism that's unusual for the genre.
Parents seem to be more obstacles than family members through most of the film. Hailey shuts out her mom because of their impending move. Raymond chafes under his father's desire for him to go to college immediately after high school. And Aquamarine runs away from home after her dad arranges a marriage for her. [Spoiler Warning] None of those attitudes and actions are positive, of course, and some of them do drag out a bit. But Hailey eventually realizes that her mom's move to Australia is the professional opportunity of a lifetime, and that it would be unfair for her to jeopardize her mother's career. Likewise, after Aquamarine's father allows her to prove to him that "love exists," she returns to her family and community, realizing that's where she really belongs.
A scary-looking pool maintenance guy proves to be a man of character by rescuing Aquamarine from Cecelia's plot to reveal her mermaid identity. In the process, Claire and Hailey begin to learn that appearances can be deceiving.
In addition to their prayer to the "gods of hurricanes," Hailey and Claire toss popcorn over their shoulders as an "offering." They're only joking, of course, but the storm controlled by Aquamarine's father apparently grows stronger as a result of their pleas. Several times later, he also controls the weather.
In the dubious tradition of Splash, Aquamarine is an "authentic" mermaid—meaning she's nude when she's in her oceanic form. Long hair always covers most of the front of her chest, but it's still obvious that she's topless.
Cecelia and her friends sport teeny bikinis. (Notably, Claire and Hailey don't.) And multiple scenes on the beach and at a pool result in lots of screen time for teen characters not wearing much (males and females). Claire and Hailey ogle Raymond's physique as he sits in the lifeguard chair; a couple of lengthy camera shots focus on his bare torso and low-riding swimming trunks. After Aquamarine sprouts legs the first time, she looks at her naked backside (which we don't see) and beams, "Isn't it cute?"
Claire declares of Raymond, "All the girls are after him ... and even a few of the boys." Other hormone-oriented dialogue includes several conversations in which Claire and Hailey disparage their "boob" sizes and compare their lack of endowment to Cecelia's amplitude. Claire mentions the need to get Aquamarine some underwear. Aquamarine and Raymond share a kiss; Raymond kisses both Claire and Hailey on the cheek.
No real violence. Just pushes and tumbles. Aquamarine takes a spill from the front of Hailey's bike and cuts her knee. Claire accidentally falls into a swimming pool (Raymond rescues her). Cecelia shoves Aquamarine off a peer.
Other Negative Elements
Hailey and Claire deeply trust the "wisdom" of teen girl magazines such as CosmoGIRL! and Seventeen. A long scene shows the pair (plus Aquamarine) devouring a huge stack of these mags, which offer volumes of superficial counsel on how to attract men. The ploys they emulate, such as "fluff and retreat" and "the ride by," are innocent and innocuous. Still, there's little awareness of the need to go beneath the surface when it comes to relationships. And the film never comments on the fact that these magazines also offer explicit sexual advice to teens—advice girls would definitely be exposed to if they emulated Claire and Hailey's example.
Other problematic behavior on the girls' part includes taking a bus to a nearby mall without getting parental permission and talking nastily about Cecilia and her friends behind their backs. Finally, the girls hatch a plan for Aquamarine to spend her nights (when her mermaid tail returns at sunset) in a water tower—surely not a good suggestion for impressionable young viewers (especially boys).
It could be said that Aquamarine splits the difference between The Little Mermaid and Splash. This mermaid tail, er, tale, is aimed directly at tween girls (whereas the other two films skew younger and older, respectively). And the film's appeal will likely be enhanced by the presence of popular teen singer Joanna "JoJo" Levesque, who makes her big screen debut.
For the most part, the film is a sentimental story about three girls' growing friendship. But their boy-crazy ways and rapt attention to CosmoGIRL!'s shallow advice model a conflicting brand of superficiality. While "fluff and retreat" may help Aquamarine snag Raymond, it's not the kind of counsel that will help young women learn to develop healthy, appropriate relationships with boys and men—or mermen either, for that matter.
Equally inappropriate is Aquamarine's provocative presence in mermaid form. Her body is technically covered, but just barely. For a film aimed at such a young audience, Aquamarine had me wondering why its creators couldn't have given its 17-year-old star a bit more clothing. These problem areas throw cold water on this lighthearted fish story, which otherwise majors—in a silly pop song sort of way—on teens and tweens (and mermaids) helping one another take important steps on the road to maturity.