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Film Review: “The Lifeguard” Starring Kristen Bell

By Tim O’Halloran

There’s been a trend of movies coming out recently about adults in their late 20’s to early 30’s who are having a hard time coping with adulthood. I feel like it’s becoming its own genre (let’s call it “nostalgia porn”) – where they go back to where they grew up, perhaps a college, anywhere where “things were simpler.” The big issue that films like this have to overcome is a protagonist who’s directionless, which usually means the film will flounder. The Lifeguard was another victim of this trope.

Leigh London (Kristen Bell) is apparently going through some tough times back in New York. I assume that the guy she was seeing was engaged to another woman. Honestly, it was hard to tell because they went with some Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-type montage to get across all this information. Needless to say, it didn’t work. In telling a story like this, we have to see that things have fallen apart, but all we get are a few sad faces from Leigh and something about her story being put in the off-beat section of the paper – nothing that we can latch onto as being serious.

From there, we move into this weird limbo of time where we watch Leigh reconnect with her friends and some kids in the town as she tries to recreate this time in her youth. We learn that she was high school valedictorian. Maybe she’s trying to make up for having been so good? Finally acting out? Again, nothing we learn says that she’s trying to break out of any sort of uptight or conservative mold.

There are a few pieces that put some pressure on the story. Leigh has to get back by the end of the week or she’s fired. But this is seen only for a bit. That aspect could’ve been brought up to add some sort of drama to the story but it isn’t ever given any thought. In fact, it gets brought back up again when she gets a text saying that she’s lost her job; Leigh does nothing.

Alright, I’ve tried to wait long enough before talking about this, but Leigh starts an intensely sexual relationship with an underage teenage boy (David Lambert). It’s alluded that her friend Mel (Mamie Gummer), the vice principal at the local high school, would have to say something if they were having a relationship, which makes the whole thing take an even weirder turn. Then, once Mel does discover that they are having a relationship, it becomes clear very quickly that something illicit was going down.

Photo: C Plus Pictures

Everything comes to a head when Leigh discovers one of the teen kids they’ve been hanging out with has hung himself in the woods. Despite the tragedy of it all, it’s the first time that Leigh is forced to face the fact that things have changed. This might have been powerful if up until this point she hadn’t spent the entire film whining about nothing.

I wish I could say something good about this movie. I really do. The story was weakly structured, had no driving force, and the characters’ actions felt random and unmotivated. The main character comes back and and pushes her friends, rather easily, back into a state of adolescence.

The film was weak from start to finish. Looking at it as a whole, the script here was clearly the issue. The cast was solid, Bell performed her role to the best of her ability, but the lack of any sort of narrative structure caused the movie to disintegrate almost immediately.

half star

  • Starring: Kristen Bell, David Lambert
  • Directed by: Liz W. Garcia
  • Running Time: 98 minutes
  • Genre: Romance, Drama