The Lifeguard Is a Lifeless Misfire


From concept to execution to tone, writer-director Liz W. Garcia’s The Lifeguard is a lifeless misfire. Twenty-nine-year-old Leigh (Kristen Bell) flees her life in New York (an unsatisfying job as a news reporter; a dead-end affair with her married editor) for her childhood home in Connecticut and her high school job as a lifeguard. This existential crisis is sparked by her covering the story of a young tiger kept handcuffed (paw-cuffed?) to a radiator by its owners, who let it die of dehydration and malnutrition. Leigh, of course, over-identifies with the tragic feline. Once home, she’s oblivious to the way her presence shatters her parents’ childfree groove, which is but one manifestation of her grating entitlement. With her sister (whose struggles to get pregnant have fractured her marriage) and a closet-case high school pal (who is as off-putting as Leigh) as support system, Leigh attempts to build a new life. That includes an affair with the 16-year-old son of her boss. The fact that Leigh is unlikable is not the problem, or wouldn’t be in a smarter film. Garcia, in attempting to create a frustrated young 21st-century career woman who is emotionally prickly and sexually unconventional (an adulteress and knockoff Mrs. Robinson), has instead crafted a tedious, navel-gazing film. Leigh’s inner life is spoken about but not really illuminated, and the viewer isn’t likely to care about either the gap between the promise of her high school victories and her actual achievements, or the fate of her ill-advised dalliance with a minor, because the film has nothing remotely interesting to say about any of it.