The Lifeguard follows Leigh, a 29 year-old journalist living out the life she wanted in New York, when she has a mental breakdown and regresses into a state of adolescence. It is clear that the life she leads is not measuring up to the life she envisioned in high school, so she goes back to the point in her life when she had the most potential in order to start over. She moves back in with her parents and starts life guarding at the local pool. Here she reconnects with old friends, and starts an illicit relationship with a high school boy. The linear narrative is fairly straight forward and easy to follow, with an easily relatable main theme, and likeable, white, wealthy protagonist, giving this film a rating of 3 on the independent film spectrum.
The central theme of the film is feeling overwhelmed by life and the desire to relive when you felt most secure. Leigh does this literally by moving back home, making this a fantasy for people going through the same issues, and who can relate to the content on a symbolic level. Leigh needs to rebuild her confidence in a safe environment, but as she finds, there is a big difference between recuperating and hiding. Despite being almost thirty, Leigh does not really know who she is, she is lost, which is why she relates to the punky high school kids who hang out around the pool. On an emotional level they are at the same place in life, looking out into the abyss of the future with absolutely no idea what direction to go in.
Interestingly Leigh’s friends, who have remained living in town, seem to be having similar issues. Her friend Mel, who is vice principal of the high school and trying to get pregnant is also having a mini early -life -crisis and goes off gallivanting with Leigh and the teenage boys. Mel’s storyline strengthens the parallel theme running through their lives which is that you can feel lost and directionless and overwhelmed at any stage in life. And Mel has a lot to worry about; her issues getting pregnant have led to issues in her marriage. But through the tribulations of reclaimed youth they find they cannot go back, and have to deal with their adult problems in order to progress. The film is understated, funny at times, poignant when it needs to be, and makes you care about the characters as they meet adulthood head on.
– Mariah Torres