The Lifeguard Reviews
An über-hip sound track can't save a film like this... insetead it emphasizes how lost it is in its lack of awareness. Like silly people, it needs a sound track to reassure itself it's saying something worth saying.
I love the character interactions between youth and adult - it's so risqué and yet normalized over the course of its awkwardness. That they develop into a kind of quasi-posse is actually exciting. A lot of times we see these cliques form of people that should never be friends, and we really embrace that. Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men... But that's contrived, they are aiming at selling us on this should-never-be status, but meanwhile we know what they're driving at. Here, the forbidden is clear with stakes raises by having an assistant principal involved who knows all these youths through school - she definitely knows she shouldn't be here, but she feels more free amongst them. It creates conflict at home with her conservative, money man, adult-oriented husband John, perfectly embodied by Joshua Harto.
The core of the group are Leigh, Todd, Little Jason, and Matt. There's an odd moment that kind of works when director Garcia sidesteps Todd and Matt getting to know one another, something which will further develop. It's at this point the camera focuses on a two-shot ensconcing Leigh and Little Jason intimately as they get to know one another over some pot. The moonlight may backlights them a bit too stark, but I appreciate that it's there to create some separation and add an element to the scene that'd otherwise be muddled in a muted navy blue. What this isolation does is it allows for Matt and Todd to develop without having to contrive a lengthy dialogue - we need to keep Leigh and Little Jason the central focus, but we'd like to know that each time we arrive at the Todd and Matt, there's more to their story. Also, not knowing just what they're developing allows us to wonder for a moment whether or not what Todd is doing to Matt later is acceptable to Matt... It is definitely not, and creates such mistrust that it leads to his ultimate demise, having nobody left to trust or care about in Ridgefield, CT.
Cinematographer does a quality job setting director's stage, keeping the frame interesting at all times. Use of wide-lens is select, but poignant. There's a low angle capturing Bell at her lifeguard chair near the rail. There's them driving through the field, recapturing their youth, wide lens freely panning around to create a sense of dizzying freedom.
There's a shot framing the four adults a the table of a restaurant oddly placed in front of a gas station, whose parking lot is inhabited by skaters. It stands out without anyone having to point it out, and I'd of preferred they left it that way rather than the cheesy cutaways that come later in the scene. Its as if Garcia was backing herself up, not confident that framing them wide, in focus, and spotlit in the BG would do the job. It's an ugly shot with the gas station, but it's kind of supposed to be, and I ultimately like what it foretells. These worlds of adult and youth are going to mere, FUELING the flames that ignite illicitly -- they are later at a youth party with some kind of bonfire going.
Kristen Bell's character Leigh has a bit of a nervous breakdown as her relationship with her boss ends up going nowhere and the journalist pieces she writes ends up depressing her. So she decides to come home for the summer and reconnect with her youth, which includes getting her old summer job of being a lifeguard at a local pool.
In many ways while the plot is refreshing in terms of focusing someone turning 30 having an identity crisis, usually it's someone in their 40s or their early twenties. The film hardly makes you care about the character, she isn't particularly likeable, you sort of end up feeling that she is acting like a big kid, and even ends up having a sexual relationship with the 16 year old son of the pools caretaker.
While Bell does show some dramatic range, the film I personally belongs to Mamie Gummer (who I thought looked very familiar, turns out to be Meryl Streep's daughter) and Joshua Harto (the blackmailer from The Dark Knight). Their story of trying to have a baby is actually well handled and very mature. By the end though after a tragedy occurs and Bell's character ends up growing up and seeing the light in this case literally.
The film is solidly directed, well acted and well-meaning, it follows through on various plots some you can see coming a mile away. I mean the message of it's okay to be in your 30s be unsure of yourself while admirable doesn't particularly offer anything new in terms of social commentary.
Still an enjoyable if at times laboured film.