The Lifeguard
dir-scr Liz W Garcia
prd Milan Chakraborty, Liz W Garcia, Joshua Harto, Mike Landry, Carlos Velazquez
with Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, David Lambert, Alex Shaffer, Joshua Harto, Amy Madigan, Adam LeFevre, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Paulie Litt, John Finn, Mike Landry
release US 30.Aug.13
13/US 1h38
The Lifeguard
Teen romance: Bell and Lambert

gummer starr shaffer
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Lifeguard A strikingly realistic approach lifts this comedy-drama above the fray, combining skilful writing and direction with transparent performances that reveal the characters' internal struggles. As a result, we can identify with everyone on screen, including the people we don't really like and the ones who do things that aren't acceptable.

Worn down by life in the city, journalist Leigh (Bell) makes a radical decision: she leaves her thoughtless boyfriend (Ramamurthy) in New York and heads home to rural Connecticut to live with her parents (Madigan and LeFevre). At 29, she feels the need to get back to basics. She reconnects with her old pals (Gummer and Starr) and gets her summer job back as lifeguard at the town pool. She even befriends two 16-year-olds (Lambert and Shaffer). And falls for one of them.

Even with its gently comical tone, this is a rather serious story. Leigh and Mel are strong characters, beautifully played by Bell and Gummer as women at a turning point. After years conforming, Leigh is fighting against the weight of expectations put on her as a top student. And Gummer's Mel is now a school principal, struggling to get pregnant with her husband (Harto) while seeing Leigh's presence as a chance to recover her youth before parenthood takes over her life.

The male characters aren't as well-defined, but Starr gives a nice turn at the edge of the film as a guy who's happy to have his partner-in-crime back, although he's still closeted and terrified of leaving town. Meanwhile, Shaffer and especially Lambert surprise us with their own revelations. With sensitive direction by Gardia, all of the actors let us see their internal motivations, hopes and fears.

The film is beautifully shot by John Peters, as Garcia bravely depicts relationships and sexuality in ways that are far more honest than most American movies. This means that the characters do things that are sometimes shocking, while the narrative hinges on a couple of over-dramatic plot points. But it reminds us that, whatever our age, we are all working on our lives, and it's a job that never ends. But we have to keep moving forward, even if that path is the most difficult one to choose.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs 26.Aug.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall