The Sitter wants to be an R-rated comedy with a tender heart – or, for those with longer memories, a potty-mouthed take on Adventures in Babysitting. It’s also designed as a vehicle for Jonah Hill, a likeable actor who tickled funny bones in several Judd Apatow flicks, showed off his more serious chops in Cyrus and the recent Moneyball, and now wants a ride to call his own.
Add up these three intentions – the down-and-dirty tone, the tender and uplifting message, the starring vehicle – and the math ain’t funny. Bottom line: This movie is a whole lot less than the sum of its parts. Here’s my quick proof.
The R-rated Stuff
Opening scene: Chubby, fully clothed and grateful, Noah (Hill) is administering oral pleasure to his self-absorbed girlfriend, who commends him on a job well done but shows zero interest in pursuing a reciprocal line of work. Poor neglected Noah. Otherwise, he’s unemployed, still lives with his single mom, is obliged to kick-start the plot by accepting a baby-sitting gig, and promptly finds himself staring down the impressive cleavage of Mrs. Whoever, the rich parent of the three spoiled kids in question.
There’s 13-year old Slater, who has “severe anxiety issues” and doesn’t seem to know that he’s gay – although we soon will. There’s nine-year-old Blithe, who wears thick eye-makeup and acts like a prepubescent party girl – a wannabe Lindsay Lohan. And then there’s little Rodrigo who, being 10 and adopted and Latino, merely looks sullen and blows things up. Before the flood of hilarity to come, Noah gets an urgent phone call from that narcissistic girlfriend: She’s at a party, has run out of cocaine, needs immediate replenishment. Her wish is his cue: “Kids, we’re going on a field trip.”
Understandably, said trip involves a visit to the heavily set-dressed den of the local coke dealer (Sam Rockwell), who, for reasons best known to himself, surrounds himself with flunkies on rollerblades and body-builders on the cusp of ’roid rage. Of course, the deal goes awry, leaving Noah on the hook for 10 grand. Subsequently, he robs and gets robbed; he chases and gets chased. En route, the adults drop plenty of f-bombs, while Rodrigo contents himself with dropping literal bombs in various washrooms, which, post-explosion, gives him an excuse to indulge his second favourite pastime – peeing in public. Staying on the toilet-humour front, Blithe may be all grown-up in manner yet her poopy pants tell a different story.
I could continue, but the category is already getting glutted, so it’s on to:
The Tender Heart
Noah, natch, is a nice guy deep down. Need proof? A few samples had better suffice: one, “Slater, you’re gay and that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with you”; two, “Blithe, you’re a kid, and a pretty great one”; and, for general consumption, three, “You shouldn’t waste your feelings on people who don’t value you.” That’s about it. Compared to its dirty mouth, the picture’s heart is rather small – but it’s a good heart.
Somehow, even in this foul climate, Hill manages to stay likeable, although the strain definitely shows. The same cannot be said of director David Gordon Green. Once upon a time, in George Washington and All the Real Girls, he made films; then, in Pineapple Express, he downgraded to movies and, in Eastbound & Down, to TV shows. Clearly, in the festive season, he’s now content with turkeys.
Let’s give the last word to Slater who, in mid-turkey, blurts out like the mixed-up kid he is: “I can’t decide whether this is funny or not.” Oh, but we can.
- Directed by David Gordon Green
- Written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka
- Starring Jonah Hill and Sam Rockwell
- Classification: 14A