Notes on “Lifeguard”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

Lifeguard

The 1976 “Lifeguard” plays like a major-studio version of a CIP quickie. Its pleasures are CIP pleasures: unthought-out scenes of everyday people doing everyday things set against a backdrop that’s the more titillating for its relatability, its human scale. Unfortunately, it’s too consciously meaningful to be wholly effective. It’s drive-in material with an earnest, TV-movie sensibility. Sam Elliott plays Rick, the handsomest lifeguard on the Socal scene. He’s so leonine that you sense he can save bathers just by staring at them. In his early 30s, he’s tired of fending off Playmates and underage adorers. Perhaps its time to wash off the sand and make a go of it in the straight world. If the movie had taken the POV of Rick’s summer helpmate, played by Parker Stevenson, it might have found a way to make Rick work. The character is a male fantasy, a semi-absurd ideal, like Bodhi from “Point Break” or Wooderson from “Dazed and Confused.” We don’t want to see him grow up. We don’t want to see him analyzed either. Because they place him at the center of their movie, writer Ron Koslow and director Daniel Petrie are forced to take a stand on his philosophy — and it’s not a philosophy that benefits from scrutiny. There’s desperation in their attempts to make Rick an avatar of lifeguarding duty, of lifeguarding as a way of life, and dishonesty in the way they have Rick lay hard truths on the characters played by Stevenson and Kathleen Quinlan while avoiding those truths in his own life. (They don’t critique the self-delusion inherent in the latter; they celebrate it.) Despite Elliott’s considerable natural nobility, he slumps under the burden of all that canned nobleness. By the end of the movie, the whole conception seems a tad false. And yet it remains genial, even charming. The high-school reunion scene might be the best one I’ve seen in a movie aside from the similar scene in “Something Wild.” (It’s a nice touch that Quinlan’s teen resembles a younger version of Rick’s ex.) I wouldn’t be surprised if “Lifeguard” inspired aspects of “Baywatch.”

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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