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cast: Emma Roberts, Joanna 'JoJo' Levesque, Sarah Paxton, Jake McDorman, and Arielle Kebbel

director: Elizabeth Allen

99 minutes (PG) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Hailey and Claire are having a bad summer. Hailey's mother has won a grant to work in Australia, the house is for sale, and Hailey is faced with the prospect, not only of being the new girl yet again but also of losing her best friend. To make matters worse, they're regarded as the weird kids at school, have an unrequited crush on local lifeguard Roy, and Claire is struggling to come to terms with a tragedy in her past and a fear of water. Until, one night, a tropical storm hits and dumps the last thing they expected to find in Hailey's pool; a mermaid called Aquamarine who has three days to find love before her father forces her into an arranged marriage. And, of course, she has her eyes on Roy.

Sweet natured and energetic, Aquamarine is very nearly a survival guide for early adolescence. Every major problem is here, from being unpopular at school, to low self-image, to dealing with friends leaving and how to survive when your family is torn apart. To make matters even better, it doesn't preach or sugarcoat any of the lessons it contains. Life is hard, sometimes you make sacrifices and that's really at the heart of Aquamarine. This isn't so much a film about growing up as it is one about realising you have to and, as a result, it's one of the smartest movies of it's type I've ever seen. The characters act, talk and behave in a refreshingly honest and convincing way and so the more fantastic elements of the plot fall neatly into place. There are also some great jokes about teenage culture under the sea, which will get big laughs from children and groans from adults, especially the 'shell phone' gag.

A cast who turn in work far greater than expected from young actors helps the script (based on a novel by Alice Hoffman) immensely. Levesque, best known for her musical career, is great as Hailey. She's smart, articulate, funny and difficult, often all at the same time and the scenes between Hailey and her mother are particularly good. Hailey is, effectively, the 'cool kid' of the two, the one with the answer for everything and Levesque has a lot of fun with that. One of her best scenes is right at the start of the film as Hailey is finishing her chores for the night and, jobs done, kicks the 'For Sale' sign over.

However, it's Roberts who really impresses. Where Hailey is all sound and fury, Claire is quiet and practical. She's the one who the film is really about, a genuinely nice girl who has been dealt a horrific blow early in life and is still staggering from it. It comes as no surprise to see that she gets over it at a pivotal point in the film but the moment is played with such honesty that you can't help but be moved by it. Like Levesque, she turns in a performance far more polished and mature than her age suggests and, like Levesque, she deserves to go far.

The rest of the cast are equally impressive with Sarah Paxton showing some great comic timing as Aqua and even Jake McDorman as Roy getting some of the best jokes and some shading to his character. However, this is Levesque and Richards' film and it absolutely deserves to be. Smart, funny, honest and moving Aquamarine is the sort of children's movie that bucks the trend, proves that kids don't have to be talked down to, to be entertained, and which, frankly, there needs to be more of. Highly recommended.

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