Review: The Lifeguard
PLOT: Leigh (Kristen Bell) is an NYC journalist going through a crisis. She abandons her job, and heads back to her hometown, where she moves in with her parents (Amy Madigan & Adam LeFevre), and reconnects with her childhood friends (Martin Starr & Mamie Gummer). In a bid to recapture her youth, she takes her old high-school lifeguard job, and starts a flirtation with a local teenager (David Lambert).
REVIEW : THE LIFEGUARD was one of my most anticipated movies going into this year’s edition of Sundance. This is primarily due to Kristen Bell in the lead role. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since VERONICA MARS, and after a slew of crappy studio rom-coms, I was eager to see her try and stretch in a good indie. Sure enough, her performance in THE LIFEGUARD is excellent. If only the movie was good too.
THE LIFEGUARD is one of those movies where the actions of the main characters make absolutely no sense. Everyone on-screen is so stupid; it becomes impossible to relate to them on any level. Sure, we all make mistakes, but the mistakes made here make me wonder how the characters, all on the cusp of thirty, made it this far without ending up in jail or dead.
Take, for example, Bell’s character. A journalist, she abandons a job with the Associated Press, in a field where decent paying jobs are scarce, because she feels unfulfilled. Boo-hoo. However, even this wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if she wasn’t such an unpleasant piece of work. Her sense of entitlement makes the characters on GIRLS seem almost noble by comparison. Once moving back home, not only does she immediately dismiss all her mother’s hobbies and hopes for the future- expecting to be babied despite being THIRTY - but at her job, she starts hanging out with and doing drugs with a gang of teenagers. Anyone else think this might be a bad idea? The director, Liz Garcia, doesn’t seem to think so, with her painting it as somehow beneficial to the kids. The cold fact is, if Leigh had been a man everyone at Sundance would have been utterly creeped-out by this plotline.
Her friends are even worse, with Garcia expecting us to believe Bell’s childhood friend, played by Starr, is still in the closet- despite his lusting over the teens at her lifeguard job. Riiight. Gummer’s character is even worse, with her being the vice-principal of a high-school, who- while affecting disapproval at Bell’s relationship with the teens- more or less turns a blind eye to what they’re doing until the big revelation in the end. Even worse is that we’re supposed to like Bell and Starr, even though they drag Gummer into a situation that could cost her career.
Not helping matters is the fact that, at only about ninety minutes, the pacing of THE LIFEGUARD feels downright somnambulistic. It’s so slow that I found myself fighting a losing battle to stay awake throughout. Really, the only noteworthy things about THE LIFEGUARD is that Bell, despite the hideousness of her character, still manages to give a nuanced performance, while the teen actors, particularly David Lambert as the object of Bell’s flirtation, are excellent.
Overall, I really disliked THE LIFEGUARD,which is a shame as it was a film I was eager to enjoy. I’m all for movies about flawed characters, but I have a limit, especially if we’re just supposed to dismiss the way Leigh tramples through everyone’s life because she feels “unfulfilled”. That’s just a big load of BS.