The Lifeguard

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Lifeguard Movie Poster Image
Drama is short on story, long on illicit romance.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 17+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

You can't recapture your high school glory days, and you can't regain those lazy days with almost no responsibilities. These are tough lessons that 29-year-old Leigh has to learn after she abandons her life in New York and moves back in with her parents in suburban Connecticut.

Positive Role Models

Leigh is a bit of a slacker, quitting her job as a New York journalist, moving back to her suburban hometown, getting a job as a summer lifeguard, and hanging out with high school kids. Her best friends aren't much better, and they all seem to be reverting back to their teens, hanging out in parking lots after school and traipsing out to the woods to smoke pot.


Some arguments between friends and couples, and one disturbing scene that comes in the aftermath of a tragedy.


The main character, a 29-year-old woman, becomes involved with a 16-year-old boy, and there are several graphic sex scenes, including oral sex and vigorous thrusting. Another scene shows a married couple starting to get involved in oral sex; the man's penis is seen.


Frequent swearing throughout the film includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," "d--k," and more. One scene shows tween boys yelling "f--k off, bitch" to an adult woman.


Several scenes take place in and around one character's Toyota.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

People drink wine, beer, and harder drinks while socializing and at parties. Several people regularly smoke cigarettes, and a few scenes show people smoking pot and acting high.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywonder dove October 7, 2013

Strong content!

After nothing else to watch, I found the trailer for The Lifeguard and gave it a go. It was not bad! However, the content is VERY strong and not for kids! It... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byEmeraldGalaxy August 2, 2018


Definitely don’t let kids or teens watch this. I watched it, as Kristen Bell was in it, and she’s an awesome actress, but I stopped half way through when I saw... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bymoomoo123 June 19, 2017

What's the story?

Leigh (Kristen Bell) is a New York journalist who's spinning her wheels at work and dismayed to realize that her boyfriend/boss has just become engaged to someone else. So she chucks it all and gets out of town, moving back in with her parents in her suburban hometown and getting back in touch with her high school pals (Mamie Gummer and Martin Starr). Soon she's got her high-school job back, too, as THE LIFEGUARD at a local condo complex, where she falls for Jason (David Lambert), a 16-year-old who's thinking about dropping out of school. Leigh is trying to recapture a carefree life without responsibilities or expectations, but getting involved with a minor may not be her best decision in a summer filled with poor choices.

Is it any good?

The best thing that can be said about The Lifeguard is that Bell turns in what may be one of her strongest performances. As Leigh, she seethes with despair and confusion, which lends the movie a whiff of authenticity. (Gummer is pretty fantastic, too.)

But her starring role isn't enough to rescue the movie from drowning in a pool of obviousness and a complete disregard for tone. Yes, Leigh is lost; yes, she's paralyzed. But it's a pretty big leap to expect the audience to cheer her on when her way out includes a perplexing (and cringe-inducing) relationship. Malaise is a rich field to mine in movies, but only if a filmmaker knows how to make it relatable or interesting -- and hopefully both. Leigh's struggles are unfortunately neither.

Talk to your kids 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 details

  • In theaters: August 30, 2013
  • On DVD or streaming: October 8, 2013
  • Cast: David Lambert, Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer
  • Director: Liz W. Garcia
  • Studio: Focus Features
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 90 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: strong sexuality, brief graphic nudity, drug use, language and a disturbing image - some involving teens
  • Last updated: December 1, 2020

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance

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