The Lifeguard is an endearing, low-budget U.S. film fitting directly into the “indie flick” mould that has come to undergird the interesting aspects of American film for the last thirty years. The protagonist Leigh is a woman on the cusp of turning thirty – working hard in New York City in journalism, having an illicit fling with her cheating boss and looking after her cat “Moose” in her tiny apartment. The opening montage setting this premise is a beautiful piece of film, a lush snapshot of a wondering, wandering life, through dalliances, encounters and emotional reflections in Queens and Manhattan.
After her boss proposes to his (other) girlfriend, Leigh moves back to Connecticut to soul-search. Tensions arise and drama prevails with her parents, old friends and new acquaintances. The narrative is simple, quaint, predictable but works well enough to deliver a respectable film that will appeal to its target demographic. The pace can be slow, the acting does not always convince, but its themes of love, ageism, sex and sexuality and – of course – existential angst are worthwhile indulging in.
As a purely indulgent aside, I found the constant references to Vermont delightful. The holy Mecca for disaffected youth: Vermont. Only an hour away from Connecticut, yet so different, so free. Filled with organic lesbians; a caricature, yes, but the singularity of Vermont is tricky to pin down. It is like a chip off the northwest marooned beside New England and floating over the more brazen lands of New York state and Pennsylvania.
The Lifeguard. Nothing special, but worth it if you’re in your twenties and still wondering what to do.
The film engages in that grand juxtaposition of the mundane and the grand, the fundamental and the extraneous. The issues at stake are obviously incredibly important in our present political order and touch on themes as old as social evolution itself. Yet they are presented in bland, disconnected scenes: daggy hotel rooms, official tribunals, lecture theatres. Citizenfour does not present entertainment nor polemic, it is simply a reminder that these leaks occurred, how they happened, and what it means for the public and the polity.
Since the film was created by one of the journalists involved in publishing the NSA leaks it can be seen as an attempt to reflexively assert control over the public narrative. This is discussed at length in the film: the public’s reaction to the leaks, the NSA’s tactics of damage control, personality, distraction. Interestingly Poitras does considerably indulge in the character of Snowden, perhaps judging that enough time has passed for his personhood to shine through in larger form. He comes across as very mechanical, with strong convictions and moral rules; wedded to the PC.
With Snowden still in Russia, Assange still in Ecuador, this particular chapter of post-2001 scandals and leaks is still playing out. Is privacy dead? Is privacy a synonym for liberty? No film will ever answer these questions and Citizenfour doesn’t try to. But it does offer a few compelling points of view and in a way embellishes the larger debate (which some would argue isn’t even occurring).
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a measured, thoughtful vampire flick, nothing like most Hollywood vampire fare of late. Its images are striking and enjoyable, playing with gender, religion, and youth debates and cultures. Even so – they are not delved into with the depth they really deserve. The film pokes slow fun rather than making serous statements.
The narrative is simple, characters are few and dialogue sparse. A bleak tone permeates the story, which becomes predictable about mid-way through. Its a shame that this is the case, but ultimately it doesn’t detract from the experience too much, as the film’s conclusion is spot on. There is just enough narrative closure, but many questions are left unanswered. The film is also very funny. There are a few scenes in particular of high mirth – one involving a pimp with misplaced narcissism and one involving a cat that is, well, a cat.
Although restrained, sparse and a touch too long for its simplicity, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night treats the vampire myth with what it deserves: respect.