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Sundance review: “The Lifeguard”

by on January 24, 2013


As a character study of an almost-30-something going through a midlife crisis a few years early, The Lifeguard offers some strong performances, but ultimately lacks buoyancy as a fulfilling drama.

Kristen Bell does a fine job carrying the film as Leigh, the crisis kid in question, who finds her aspiring journalism career and relationship status lacking and decides to simply walk away from her life in New York City and return to her parents’ Connecticut home. The folks’ are happy enough to welcome their former valedictorian and swimming star at first, but it quickly comes clear that Leigh has no plans of moving on any time soon.

Indeed, Leigh’s only plan seems to be retreating into her high school past, taking her old lifeguard job and striking up a friendship with some local teenage skaters. She manages to reconnect with some of her old friends and drag them into her personal devolution for a while, but even they eventually realize that Leigh’s judgement is seriously misguided.

Alex Shaffer as Leigh’s teenage lover is noteworthy, as is Martin Starr as Leigh’s closted gay friend. But as the story unfolds, the audience is left searching for anything satisfying to hold on to. Writer/director Liz Garcia gives short shrift to the setup of Leigh’s breakdown in the city, and while watching Leigh cut loose is okay for a while, there’s no redemption coming. There’s just bad decision followed by bad decision as Leigh manages to screw up the lives of virtually everyone she cares about. Hence the irony of her job title.

Sadly, that’s probably the most clever thing about The Lifeguard.

Remaining screenings:

Jan. 25, 3:15 p.m., Eccles Theatre, Park City

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