Box art for The Lifeguard

The Lifeguard

comedy, drama

From Focus World & Screen Media, a 29 year old (Kristen Bell) reverts to teenage behavior when she flees back to her suburban hometown.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

PAUSE for kids age 17
Positive role models
0 out of 5
5 out of 5
2 out of 5
1 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Positive messages
1 out of 5

Drama is short on story, long on illicit romance.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lifeguard is about an unhappy 29-year-old New York reporter (Kristen Bell) who chucks it all to move back in with her parents in her sleepy Connecticut hometown. Soon, she's hanging out with her high school pals in the same old parking lot, and it's not long before she becomes involved with a high school boy who's just slightly more than half her age. There are several explicit sex scenes (including one in which a man's genitals are seen), as well as frequent swearing ("f--k," "s--t," and more), and lots of drinking and pot smoking.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about how the movie depicts drinking and drug use. What role do they play in Leigh/her friends' life? Are their consequences? Are they realistic?
  • How does Leigh's arrival in her hometown affect the other people around her, including her mother and her old friends? Is it true that "you can't go home again"?
  • What do you think about Leigh and Jason's relationship? What draws them together? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

  • Tomatometer®

    reviews counted: 11
    see all The Lifeguard reviews
  • Audience


Top Critic Reviews

Rotten: As listless and self-regarding as its protagonist, flitting among underdeveloped characters and subplots and indulging in rote emo shots by the pool, yet never figuring out how to dive into the deep end.

- Eric Hynes, Time Out New York, Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rotten: From concept to execution to tone, writer-director Liz W. Garcia's The Lifeguard is a lifeless misfire.

- Ernest Hardy, Village Voice, Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fresh: Although writer-director Liz W. Garcia's wistful, angsty tale treads familiar ground, the filmmaker has crafted a credibly flawed and conflicted heroine who holds interest.

- Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times, Friday, August 30, 2013

Audience Reviews

1 star

The Lifeguard is a film that could have actually made some significant contributions to conversations about slacker-life and the seemingly more frequent attempts of thirty-somethings wanting to shrug off all responsibilities and live life in the now abandoning all they have obligations to without a single care or concern for anything other than their own immediate gratification and happiness. It could have been that film ... if it were good. The Lifeguard tells the story of Leigh (Kristen Bell - "Veronica Mars"), a 29-year-old New Yorker who leaves the city after both her current job and relationship heads south. To recover, she heads back to her hometown and moves back into her bedroom at her parents' house and gets her old job back ... as a lifeguard at a sub-division's pool. Leigh shrugs off all responsibilities she has accumulated up to that point in life to focus on herself and her own happiness by even starting a new (disturbing) relationship with a troubled youth. By disregarding advice and helpful tips from others around her, Leigh plunges headfirst into disaster as her actions affect all of those closest to her (not just herself). The film is frustrating in that Leigh is a stubborn block-head who refuses to look at reality; but even with the unlike-able central character the film has several flaws. Mamie Gummer (Evening) is given her biggest role yet and she doesn't disappoint and is perhaps the best thing in The Lifeguard -- while she isn't her mother (Meryl Streep), she has talent. The Lifeguard is drowning in self-pity and it makes the film rather loathsome. Coming-of-age films are supposed to be about teenagers not self-pitying adults who want a do-over because they think they have made a bad choice several years back. The film is not enjoyable.

- ThomasJayWilliams, Monday, August 12, 2013

3 stars

Liz W. Garcia has something on her mind, and with her feature debut, THE LIFEGUARD, she gently doles it out in this quiet, sweet, heartbreaking look at messing up, learning and growing. Kristen Bell is Leigh, an unhappy New York City journalist who escapes the Big Apple for her Connecticut hometown where she resumes her High School job watching the pool at an apartment complex. Entitled and oblivious to the needs of those around her, she's not exactly the top candidate for entrusting lives, but she looks great in her red one-piece Speedo, so into the high chair she goes! Falling right back in with her group of friends and immediately alienating her mother (a terrific and tough Amy Madigan), Leigh fully embraces her childish ways, literally and figuratively. Not content to smoke weed with the local skater dudes, she slides right into a full-blown affair with her boss' 16-year-old son. Switch genders and you'd have a Todd Solondz movie about a pedophile, but here, Garcia wisely lets us feel the eroticism of the pairing while also showing us real emotional consequences and real judgment from other characters. And what a wonderful supporting cast it is. Mamie Gummer, who has always come off as Meryl Streep 2.0 (because she IS Meryl Streep 2.0!), really carves out her own identity as an actor in this film. A master at conveying conflicting emotions, she's the High School Vice Principal who is tired of plating by the rules, and her marriage is suffering in the process. Her husband, played by Joshua Harto, real-life husband of Garcia's and a producer on the film as well, is the conservative voice of reason who refuses to stand idly by as his wife throws everything away. Their scenes together not only illustrate the central themes of the film, but they feel true to how mismatched couples have to sometimes work hard to keep it together. David Lambert plays Leigh's love interest, and does a wonderful job of presenting a matinee idol quality only to see it crumble during one shocking, traumatic incident. It is in this scene where a young man playing grown-up for the benefit of his girlfriend shows the scared little boy underneath, and it's a well-earned moment for the character and for the film. Special mention must go to Alex Shaffer, so good in WIN/WIN as the wrestler Paul Giamatti adopts, who plays one of those sullen punks with much more going on under the surface. It's a sad and vivid performance, and I look forward to seeing his career blossom. For me, the only real weak link in the chain is how Martin Starr's closeted, best friend character is handled. Starr's performance is fine, in fact, he deftly handles some truly uncomfortable moments, but it felt like there may have been a scene missing that would have truly given us a little more oomph to his resolution. The cinematography by TV veteran, John Peters, is wonderful, especially during the nighttime poolside montage and in the iconic shot of Bell overlooking the water at dusk. His camera work is intuitive and watchful, allowing us to bask in Bell's beguiling stillness. Some slight quibbles: - Andy Samberg threw down the gauntlet by chiding indie filmmakers to NEVER again show a character rolling her hand in the wind (SEE BOTTLECAP:, yet we got a shot of it early on here. JUST NO! - I forgive first time directors for breaking the 180-degree rule by crossing the line here and there, but her experienced DP should have shut it down. There are a couple of scenes where Garcia intercuts two characters speaking to each other on the same side of the frame. - In this soundtrack-heavy film, which reaches GARDEN STATE levels of hip indie choices, a little more restraint in some on-the-nose titles would have been an improvement. Again, minor rookie mistakes from a director with a keen sense for how she wants to portray beautiful but messy women onscreen. You get a real sense of a small community here, and some surprising outbursts, such as the hilarious scene involving one of the most foul-mouthed 6-year-olds of all time. There's nothing like watching a character getting her bubble burst by a toddler. For those expecting a comedy, however, think again. Garcia sets the tone in her perfectly economical opening scenes by giving us an allegorical tale of a trapped tiger. The sense of tragedy on Bell's face as this story unfolds tell us this isn't a laugh riot so much as a meditative character study of a hurt young woman. THE LIFEGUARD isn't perfect, but it's a look into a fresh cinematic voice with a lovely, light touch.

- fb720603734, Saturday, August 31, 2013

3 stars

Who doesn't wonder what it would be like to step back into the days of high school? The days before careers and serious relationships toiled our every day lives, when swimming at the local pool and the appropriate places to skateboard were your biggest worries. In "The Lifeguard", leading lady Kristen Bell takes that step back, after a piece of her writing is rejected from her newspaper and the affair she is having comes to a close. Director Liz W. Garcia may never be praised for this film, but to her defense, this independent film takes many distinct and unexpected turns which keep it, at least minimally fresh and a nice change of pace. Kristen Bell's character isn't the only one taking strides to change, as Bell herself takes on this role in a little Indie, something we haven't yet seen from her, and she dominates. Playing the flawed heroine, the first thing I noticed was the lack of make-up used in the film, which I wholly respect. She's gorgeous and there's no reason to cover that up. On top of that, she delivers a multi-layered performance, as her character falls down this underage rabbit hole, trying all she can to regain some semblance of youth before she turns 30. Although it could have easily spun into the normal rhetoric of sexual politics, especially with her blossoming romance with a boy half her age, but it stands its ground and I come to respect it more for that. The problem the film faces is its self-indulgence and slow pace, causing many viewers to cry boredom. But if you're willing to put in the time and can appreciate a methodical, older than usual coming of age story, along with an above par showing from Kristen Bell, then "The Lifeguard" might just be better than the critics are making it.

- xas5, Thursday, September 5, 2013