By Emma Bernstein | The Playlist August 2, 2013 at 11:05AM
"The Lifeguard" (2013)
What It's About: The almost-30-year-old Leigh (Kristen Bell), upon finding out that her boss/boyfriend is getting married to someone else, decides job dissatisfaction has reached an all-time low, and abandons New York for her childhood home in Connecticut. Living with her parents (Amy Madigan and Adam LeFevre) and resuming a former position as a private apartment complex lifeguard, the former reporter is basically a glorified high school student who reunites with friends (Mamie Gummer and Martin Starr) and begins a tryst with a 16-year-old skater punk (David Lambert). Things are going, um, swimmingly until they're suddenly not, and Leigh comes face-to-face with the downward spiral that her once thriving life has become.
Why You Should Stream It: Advance reviews of the Liz W. Garcia-helmed comedy haven't been spectacular, but we think Veronica Mars is a gifted comedienne and, most of the time, worth watching. And most critics have noted her talent here, with plaudits for Lambert and Gummer as well. There's certainly some interesting material here that should strike chords with similarly aged viewers, even if the relationship at the film's center isn't explored fully or with the pathos of other May-December screen romances. Ultimately, "The Lifeguard" won’t be in theaters until August 30th, so it's just as well that you watch it in the comfort of your own home. With a pause (and maybe a fast-forward) button at your disposal.
Where It's Available: Cable on Demand, iTunes, VUDU
"On the Road" (2012)
What It's About: Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund), often accompanied by Marylou (Kristen Stewart), take a road trip across the United States, searching for the meaning of life, the height of coolness, and the "it factor," those things which make you feel most alive. Along the way, the duo encounters a number of characters, played by the likes of Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Elisabeth Moss, Kirsten Dunst, Terrence Howard, and Steve Buscemi.
Why You Should Stream It: Jack Kerouac's seminal work "On the Road" was long considered an "unfilmable" piece of literature. That is, until director Walter Salles and writer Jose Rivera came along and successfully converted the episodic, introspective novel into a beautifully meditative motion picture. The movie is enjoyable in its particular loyalty to its source material, but much of its inherent beauty comes from the talents of cinematographer Eric Gautier, who deftly captures the color and oddity of the American wilds. Our review applauds the actors, particularly the charismatic Hedlund, and calls the film "scenic and episodic, full of youth's passion but with a shade of the future yet to come dimming the brightness of its vision." While the collected images may not be the milestones that Kerouac's words were, "On the Road" remains a must-see for any fan of the Beat Generation.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes
"Breaking the Girls" (2013)
What It's About: Sara (Agnes Bruckner), a hardworking law student, nearly has her scholarship revoked after waging frenemy warfare with classmate Brooke (Shanna Collins), and turns to a potential lover named Alex (Madeline Zima) for help. The latter suggests a pair of untraceable crimes, an idea that Sara disregards until, landing at the center of a police investigation, she begins to suspect that Alex may have framed her for murder.
Why You Should Stream It: This movie is about two-thirds "Strangers on a Train" and one-third "Wild Things" mixed with "Heathers." That is to say, it's kind of an homage soup. The tendency toward tribute aside, however, director Jamie Babbit and her lead actresses are clearly having fun with the material, conveying twisted psyches and snaking machinations that are so absurd as to boarder on soap opera material. Speaking of which... Both Babbit and writer Guinevere Turner worked on "The L Word," and the tone of the Showtime series carries through here: youthful angst, quirky romance, and fraught breakups abound. "Breaking the Girls" hit cinemas last week, so if you haven't had a chance to see it on the big screen, watch it at home today!
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes
What It's About: Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a first grade teacher who, after throwing up in front of her class, is forced to admit she has a drinking problem and enrolls in AA. Her equally addicted husband (Aaron Paul) doesn't, however, leading the couple into a painfully honest examination of their problematic and co-dependent relationship, so long supported by alcohol. Nick Offerman and Octavia Spencer co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: There's a great deal of talent in director and co-writer James Ponsoldt's second film. Winstead digs deeper than her usual sunniness, skillfully portraying a tortured soul, while Paul demonstrates his range with practiced depictions of loving tenderness; it should also be noted that Spencer and Offerman hold their own here. Similar success is seen in the authenticity and multi-dimensionality of the script, complemented by clever framing and accomplished editing choices. Our review says, "all of the pain and problem-solving here feel human and natural, never forced or contrived. The sober are not heroes; the drunk, not all demons. Ponsoldt, Paul and Winstead make a remarkably effective team for this film's points and purposes, and 'Smashed' burns long after it goes down smoothly."
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube
Also Available to Stream
Despite not making our top eight picks, the following films are certainly still worthy of your movie-loving attention, and are newly available via various streaming services. Links to our reviews are provided where available.
"Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm"
"Breaking Bad: Season 5, Part 1"
"Cockneys vs. Zombies"
"I Declare War"
"Night Across the Street"
"What Maisie Knew"
"Zach and Miri Make A Porno"