Film Review


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The Lifeguard

Kristen Bell as Leigh in Liz W. Garcia's The Lifeguard. [Photo: Screen Media Films]

The Lifeguard 1 out of 4 star1-0

Post-Collegiate Stress Disorder (PCSD), a very early onset of a type of midlife crisis that largely afflicts privileged whites, was articulated in The Graduate with a level of formal experimentation that still feels fresh today, even jarring, especially for the way Mike Nichols used Simon and Garfunkel's music to give shape to both the emotions of his characters and the film's structure. Conversely, Liz W. Garcia's inept The Lifeguard uses, to quote Budd Wilkins's review of The Graduate, "a steady barrage of soundtrack-friendly hits [to] cue emotional response with overweening Pavlovian precision." Suggesting what a remake of the Nichols classic might look in the hands of a Zach Braff acolyte who shops for music at Starbucks, the film treats the life a struggling journo, Leigh (Kristen Bell), as a perpetual montage of arrested development, where everyone in her Podunk hometown, a place where dreams go to die, exist solely to push her to the realization that she's worthy of covering the education beat for The New York Times.

After hangdogishly leaving Manhattan, where the worst of her troubles may have been a rough-and-tumble exit from the Astor Place subway station scored to sub-M83 shoegaze, and arriving in her hometown to the strains of an Avril Lavigne-grade riot-grrrl anthem, Leigh snags a job as a lifeguard at a condo pool, where the welcome wagon includes a verbally abusive small fry and a 16-year-old who allows her to boink him without anyone, not even the filmmakers, batting a moral eye. Garcia plies her belief in the small town as a void of despair with near-offensive single-mindedness, with Leigh's old chums, closeted Todd (Martin Starr) and uptight Mel (Mammie Gummer), expressing their hunger for dick to mostly futile effect, though she's most committed to heroically stretching out the film's governing water metaphor—a near-drowning, the threat of rain, and cringingly on-the-nose soundtrack selections like Ane Brun's "Undertow" and Frightened Rabbit's "Swim Until You Can't See Land"—to a point that allows The Lifeguard to best Garden State's Guinness World Record for most incessant navel-gazing.

Director(s): Liz W. Garcia Screenwriter(s): Liz W. Garcia Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Joshua Harto, John Finn, Amy Madigan, Alex Shaffer, Sendhil Ramamurthy, David Lambert, Paulie Litt Distributor: Screen Media Films Runtime: 98 min Rating: R Year: 2013

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