Kristen Bell has never especially impressed me before. She was the title character in the vile and borderline-misogynist movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall in 2008 and served as the off-screen narrator of Gossip Girl for the length of its run. She has also starred in the comedies Fanboys, Couples Retreat and When in Rome (none of them set the world alight). Now, however, we have The Lifeguard, an adult drama that offers her the chance to present herself to audiences as a serious actor rather than a prop that spouts unfunny jokes and has sex on command.
Talking of sex, there’s quite a bit of it in this movie. Bell plays a 29-year-old journalist who decides to run away from her life and go back to living with her mother. She gets a job as a lifeguard at an outdoor pool and starts up a steamy relationship with a troubled 16-year-old boy. Director Liz W. Garcia wisely limits the amount of female nudity during the sex scenes and avoids Bell becoming simply an objectified sex machine for a horny teenager. Instead, their intimate scenes feel complex and serious and are helped by the talents of David Lambert (who in real life is actually 21 and, to be honest, looks it).
Credit should also go to Mamie Gummer (daughter of Meryl Streep) who plays one of our lead’s main friends who becomes involved in the various complications that ensue.
The film is let down by an indie soundtrack that has too light a touch on the more interesting aspects of the drama. The plot also starts to lose its footing as it tries to drive up momentum for a final act featuring revealed secrets and soul-searching self-confrontation. In the end, though it smartly sidesteps nonsensical melodrama, The Lifeguard remains a curious picture that doesn’t have enough confidence in its own strengths.
The Lifeguard, directed by Liz W. Garcia, will be released in the UK later in 2014.