Directed by Liz W. Garcia
Starring Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr
Review by Jordan
The lifeguard is neither a character study nor a structured narrative, just as it is neither a success nor failure. It’s an at times disturbing, always intriguing yet deeply flawed window into the life of depressed (though not “clinically” depressed) 29 year old New York City reporter Leigh (Kristen Bell) who, despite her success, grows disenfranchised with her surroundings and flees back to her hometown to stay in her old bedroom, spend time with her old friends and work her old high-school job as a condo-complex lifeguard.
Seeming like the perfect basis for a lighthearted, post coming-of-age drama with the capacity for plenty of humor, Garcia’s film then takes a turn for the dark, as Leigh’s apparent immaturity places her in a reckless, dangerous situation which will certainly cause her new/old existence to spiral out of control and hurt those close to her.
The truth is, by the time the denouement or even the second act begins, many viewers would have already formed a negative opinion of The Lifeguard that is unlikely to change as the events progress, thanks to an intrusive soundtrack, intentionally unlikable-at-times protagonist and an uncertain directorial touch. Leigh represents an inner-angst and loss of identity that exists within all of us, deep-seeded feelings which aren’t easily dissipated or resolved, so why should we expect any sort of resolution here? The film begins and ends with a character unsure of her place in the world and in her way at war with it, and as she leaves her home town, rare tears forming and flowing down her telling face, its unclear who the victor will be.
While there is a much better film here, hidden behind the cheap montages and moments of cliche, there can be no arguing that Bell delivers a wonderfully unsettling performance completely separate from the pristine appearance the poster projects, and is aided by interesting actress Mamie Gummer (Evening, Side Effects) who is only one lead role away from gaining serious recognition, an underutilized yet integral Martin Starr (Knocked Up, Superbad) and David Lambert as the troubled Little Jason, who, despite being only 16 also views his life with disdain and wishes to escape. At heart, The Lifeguard really is a tale about that very subject, escape; whether we’re regressing backwards being led by nostalgia or forging ahead with the hope of a bright horizon, it’s an interesting reality that we’re rarely happy with our state at present.
It’s a hazy, grubby window, and the view on the other side might not be deemed worthy of the effort, but personally I’m glad I spent 95 minutes observing this fractured world and a character who, despite her efforts for the contrary, I did in fact come away liking.
3 caged tigers out of 5