To call The Lifeguard a coming-of-age film doesn't quite do it justice. It is that, but it's not just a teenager who is coming of age. There is an almost 30 year old who is discovering that her life as a journalist in the big city hasn't quite turne out like she planned. There is a 17 year old who plans to drop out of high school and move far away with his best friend. There is another 30 year old woman who is on the edge of starting a family and is paralyzed with fear that she won't be a good mother. There is a third 30 year old who still lives in his hometown and has yet to come out of the closet. And finally there is a woman in her late 50's who is embarking on a second act in life and desperately needs to be taken serious by those around her.
The story centers around Leigh, the journalist mentioned above. She lives in New York City and works for the Associated Press. Even though she feels that her stories are serious journalism, her editor keeps putting them in the less serious sections. She is also having an affair with him even though he is engaged to someone else. When she finds it too much to bear, she decides to pack some clothes and her cat and heads off to her hometown thinking her parents will be more than happy to let her move back in. But when she arrives, she finds her old room being turned into an office and her mother doesn't quite give her the warm welcome she expected.
She also reconnects with 2 old friends from high school: one is a vice-principal at the same school they attended and the other is a closeted gay guy who runs an art gallery. She also gets her old job as a lifeguard at a neighborhood pool. There she meets a group of 3 young teenage boys who regularly skip school, smoke pot, and skateboard. This group of 6 become unlikely friends and Leigh gets too close to Little Jason, resulting in life-altering consequences for all of them.
When I first rented the film, I thought it was going to be a lot lighter than it was. I didn't expect the script to be so complex and thought-provoking. The performances are excellent. Kristen Bell is very different in the role of Leigh. She really shows her acting ability. Mamie Gummer is superb as the frustrated vice-principal trying to balance right and wrong and being a grown-up. But the break out performance is definitely from David Lambert as Little Jason. At first, he seems like a typical teen with not a lot going on inside his head. But he is just what Leigh needs. His face is so expressive and his range is well beyond an actor his age. I suspect we will see a lot of him in the future.
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