Life is hard and oftentimes can suck beyond belief. Is this not one of the crucial lessons we learn as we grow up? Even if we make all the “right” decisions that we think will lead us toward happiness, it’s never as easy to achieve as one may think during the blissful ignorance of our youths. So is the case for The Lifeguard’s Leigh London (Kristen Bell), a New York City reporter who’s feeling unfulfilled and quits her job to move back home and have a summer of soul searching and screwing up.
As Leigh gets her old job back as a lifeguard at a pool, she reconnects with her parents and friends (the always welcome Martin Starr shows up as her high school pal, Todd) and meets Jason (David Lambert), a 16-year-old who’s seemingly just as lost as she is. They grow together in their confusion as two people at a crossroads in their respective lives, attempting to help each other figure it all out. But once their closeness becomes sexual, it becomes dangerous, disrupting the lives of all those around them and creating further personal turmoil for them. When the secret eventually does get out, the heat is on for Leigh to pull her shit together (you know….because he’s jailbait!)
Although the movie works overtime to avoid the usual clichés, it does fall victim occasionally. In true indie-drama form, it can also be slow at times; however, it speaks to the lives of today’s twenty-somethings and the inevitable, scary post-college Quarter Life Crisis. Seeing this successful New Yorker already need a time out before she even hits 30 is oddly comforting in a way. Was that a part of writer/director Liz W. Garcia’s intention? Maybe. It also goes to show how much one can learn from the most unexpected of places, as Leigh discovers through Jason.
Despite the film’s flaws, Bell is a dramatic pro and continuously draws our attention back to Leigh’s bumpy road (excluding Veronica Mars, this is one of my favorite performances of Bell’s). During her summer of sulking, Leigh is self-centered and reckless – damaged even – but never unfeeling. What The Lifeguard goes on to show is that regardless of intention and plans, happiness is still an ideal that we all continue to chase and probably will continue to chase for a large part of our lives. It’s OK for anyone, of any age, to make mistakes and lose her way, but the important part is how we find our way back.
You can currently check out The Lifeguard on Netflix Instant.