Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Girl Power, Fantasy, And The Mysteriously Stunted Career Of Jojo: Aquamarine

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting character arcs, Interesting plot, Generally good effects
The Bad: Predictable plot and character arcs, Initially reinforces a number of troubling stereotypes.
The Basics: Aquamarine is playful, girl-friendly fantasy-comedy fare, but little more and is not as memorable as it could have been.

Every now and then, I am in the mood for lighter cinematic fare and I like to broaden my horizons with a film from someone whose body of work I have come to appreciate. In 2012, I discovered I generally enjoyed the movies Emma Roberts was in, most notably It’s Kind Of A Funny Story (reviewed here!) and I could stand to see more films that featured her. It was actually my wife who recommended Aquamarine to me, so based on her recommendation, I sat down and watched it this morning.

And it was enjoyable, but it left me with one nagging, powerful, unanswered question: How is it that Jojo (Joanna “Jojo” Levesque) is not a huge star now? I’m not saying that Aquamarine afforded her the opportunity for anything resembling a powerful performance, but she fits the exact same acting niche that Lindsay Lohan once filled (much the way the Keira Knightley is now getting all the roles that Wynonna Ryder would have pulled a decade prior). How is it that Hollywood executives, tired of Lohan’s inability to deliver anymore, would not have simply swapped in Jojo to complete their films that needed that exact type of performer in their cast?! The fact that I find myself contemplating all that following the movie should be enough to tell one that Aquamarine rises to average at best, with enough creativity to knock it over pure average, but not by much.

That said, Aquamarine is a fun “girl power” type movie that brings to mind Mean Girls (reviewed here!) for its sense of girlish melodrama, but with a healthy dose of creativity the superior film lacked. Where Aquamarine falls down is in how it reinforces, rather than challenges, many of the stereotypes and gender roles of young women. Aquamarine is, unfortunately, largely about crushing on boys (without pesky problems of teenage sexuality), shopping, hanging out with girlfriends, and dreading change, but slowly overcoming fears during the transition from childhood to adulthood. In fact, one of the initial issues with Aquamarine has to be that it does not seem to know what it wants its audience to be. Girls comment on the size of their (and other girls’) breasts and has girls ogling one another’s butt and legs, but it features girls acting like girls (not even young women) with the way they treat boys, shopping, and keep their bodies covered in age-appropriate ways. For a PG movie, Aquamarine seems to want to push the envelope, but only so far.

In a seaside town, as the end of summer looms, teenagers Claire and Hailey ogle the local lifeguard, a boy named Raymond. They are creeped out by the adult loner Leonard, who works near the beach. Claire lives with her Grandparents (her parents having died at sea, leaving her terrified of actually going into the ocean) and Hailey lives with her mother, who has been offered a terrific opportunity in Australia. Facing their friendship becoming a long-distance thing, both girls are not eager for the end of the summer.

In the wake of a storm, Claire and Hailey discover a mermaid, Aquamarine, in the pool at Claire’s grandparent’s resort. Aquamarine is there, rebelling against her father by resisting an arranged marriage, and makes the girls a deal: if they can help her get Raymond to tell her that he loves her, she will grant them one wish. Thinking that this is the way to keep Hailey from having to move, she, Claire, and Aquamarine set their sights on enticing Raymond. That means getting Raymond to pay more attention to Aquamarine than to the villainous Cecilia Banks, the town “princess.” As the girls work to thwart their adversary and win Raymond’s affections, Leonard comes to realize that Aquamarine might be more than just a teenage girl and might need more help than they realize.

Aquamarine succeeds on the character front largely on the strength of the movie’s themes. Aquamarine appropriately belabors the point that one should not judge people on their appearance alone (as the girls have judged Leonard). That is somewhat undermined by not giving Cecilia a very human character or perspective; she is a monolithic villainess, so when Aquamarine talks back to her, it is more triumphant resistance, as opposed to Aquamarine being viewed as a mean girl herself.

Moreover, Aquamarine strives to be an empowering movie, even if it is set up in the most obvious possible way. Claire is timid and afraid of pretty much everything at the outset of the film and Hailey is her adventurous, spunky friend. The “types” are not challenged and follow ridiculously predictable plot arcs over the course of the movie. However, Aquamarine really is about growing up and as a result, Hailey comes to appreciate her childish selfishness in regard to her mother’s opportunity half the world away and Claire puts saving Aquamarine above her own fears, so there is an appropriate level of character growth in the film.

As well, Aquamarine has a surprisingly adult take on the otherwise vacuous character of Raymond. Aquamarine’s whole quest centers around getting Raymond to say “I love you.” He is not emotionally reticent in not saying the words: he is young and inexperienced. He professes appropriate ignorance of the emotion as opposed to just phoning it in.

None of the acting is bad in Aquamarine, but none of it is so extraordinary as to lead one to crow about it. Emma Roberts plays Claire as appropriately lacking in confidence and she lands her character’s big emotional scene. Jojo is a carbon copy of Lindsay Lohan in her performance as Hailey and Sara Paxton is strangely unremarkable as Aquamarine. Jake McDorman is a generic “guy” as Raymond and he makes the viewer wish that his character was written with a more distinct sense of self.

For a film with a mermaid, Aquamarine is exceptionally predictable, though not unenjoyable. On DVD, Aquamarine has both the widescreen and full screen versions. There are also deleted scenes, commentary tracks and featurettes, all of which are a fairly decent value. The film is worth watching, is pretty safe family fare, and is not one worth rushing out to buy for one’s permanent collection.

For other films geared toward teenage girls, please visit my reviews of:
The Princess Diaries
Just My Luck


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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