Jonah Hill may appear to have grown up in Moneyball, and got some intellectual credibility in an adult environment, but he reverts back to the same self-depreciating man-boy role we all know him for in David Gordon Green’s new mainstream comedy, The Sitter. It’s really a half-hearted, mischievous Noughties twist on zany 1980s comedy adventure, A Night on the Town – more commonly known as Adventures in Babysitting, starring Elizabeth Shue, but minus the hot babysitter and the child-friendly fun.
Hill is immature Noah Griffith, a suspended college student fixated on one sexy girl down the road, Marisa (Ari Graynor), who he gives ‘personal favours’ to. Planning to hook up again later that night, Noah begrudgingly agrees to stand in and baby-sit instead, so that his mother can go on a date. Inexperienced and out of his depth, Noah is tasked with looking after the neighbours’ three dysfunctional kids: an anxiety-riddled, pill-popping, closeted son called Slater (Where The Wild Things Are’s Max Records), a potty-mouthed, celebrity-wannabe daughter called Blithe (Landry Bender), and adopted Hispanic son Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) who is hell-bent on causing maximum disruption and has an unhealthy interest in cherry bombs. Against the parents’ wishes or knowledge, and with an urgent errand from Marisa, Hill ventures into New York City with the kids to visit drug kingpin Karl (Sam Rockwell). What seems like a fairly straightforward task snowballs into utter chaos, and a few life lessons are learned by all.
Green and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka never step out of the original 1980s’ mould, delivering the inevitable wild night combination of freaked-out anti-hero babysitter, out-of-control weirdo kids who come to respect their minder, and crazed bad guys on their tail; even the drug explosion incident in the car fails to be fully exploited, sidelined in favour of safer flatulence jokes. However, in true Pineapple Express style, the filmmakers have overloaded the expletives and borderline-offensive racial stereotypes, dished out the serious drugs and turned up the volume, possibly so Hill’s character Noah doesn’t seem as annoying as first thought. That said Hill easily plays within his comfort zone here, dripping with sarcasm and harsh home truths that it merely helps enforce what makes him appealing to fans in such coming-of-age comedies, rather than offers anything new to his CV.
In all honesty, the film’s hit-or-miss first impression all hangs on the opening scene, which gets down to business and firmly establishes this film’s R-rated, frat-boy stance of the Apatow-school ilk. Unlike the original, Green and co aim for the outrageous, rather than the genuinely funny to grab shock laughs; even down to young Blithe’s musical tastes and choice street slang – it’s only funny because it’s a naïve and corrupted kid delivering the adult lines, even though Bender does a commendable job. The real humour is actually in the background and random supporting acts that bolster the whole insanity, especially around Karl’s aerobics lair. Nevertheless, Rockwell is still enjoyable to watch, camping it up with guns blazing, but never giving anything different from the token drug dealers in Pineapple Express and the like.
All of the above absurdity needs to have a purpose, and Hill as Noah is perfectly positioned to be the unwitting messenger and ironically, the voice of reason to coax the kids out of their respective troubles. Green peppers the film with elements of Noah’s unsatisfactory existence, conveniently laying the blame for this screw-up on a parent. Disappointingly, this allows Noah to come out of this virtually unscathed, simply by wearing his heart on his sleeve that leads to the inevitable healing process for him and his charges. It’s lazy, write-by-numbers dramatic comedy that even has nauseating time for picking up a foxy lady. The end result is neither poignant nor clever – unless you’re a confused kid with identity issues, aged 15+, so some good could come from watching this.