As the beloved teenage private detective on the television series Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell excelled at playing a snarky character who we loved even when she made bad decisions. As Leigh, an award-winning reporter from the Associated Press apparently suffering from a midlife crisis at the ripe old age of 29, Bell portrays a petulant character for whom it is difficult to feel any true compassion.
She escapes her big city life and career by retreating back to her Connecticut hometown, only to find that two of her best friends are conveniently still living there and eager to hang out. Mel (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter) is now an assistant principal at the school they all attended, while Todd (Martin Starr of Freaks And Geeks) is a closeted art dealer who is all too happy to relive their old summer nights of getting stoned and stumbling home.
We’re supposed to believe that this seemingly successful journalist is not only perfectly content to move back home, but that her main goal is to get her old high school job back. Before long, she’s once again the lifeguard for a pool in an apartment complex where only a handful of people ever seem to go. These are the kind of places where a lone sign typically says “swim at your own risk,” but why let that get in the way of a perfectly ridiculous storyline?
This seems to strictly exist as the setup for Leigh to be introduced to a 16-year-old skater boy named Jason (David Lambert), whose father is the maintenance man for the pool. This isn’t a charming first love story. Their first intimate encounter involves full-on, up-against-the-wall sex in the bathroom of the pool. It’s unlikely, but hardly uncharted territory. (At least in last year’s Hello I Must Be Going, Melanie Lynsky’s thirtysomething character fell in love with a 19-year-old.) Of course, if the coupling depicted featured a 29-year-old man seducing a 16-year-old girl, the movie would be far less likely to get released. As the affair continues on, Leigh puts herself and her friends at risk because apparently the only way to cure her blues is by repeatedly having sex with an underage boy.
Screenwriter and director Liz W. Garcia made her start writing television dramas like Cold Case and Dawson’s Creek. If there is a highlight to her otherwise forgettable debut film, it’s in a expertly depicted fight scene between Leigh and her exasperated mother Justine (played wonderfully by Amy Madigan), who only wants to see her daughter get back on track and get out of her house. It gives us one of the most honest moments in the script and a small glimpse into what could have been. Otherwise, The Lifeguard sadly drowns in its own clichés.
Director: Liz W. Garcia
Writer: Liz W. Garcia
Starring: Kristen Bell, David Lambert, Martin Starr, Amy Madigan
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2013