(This review was originally published onDecember 9, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)
If you enjoyed “Pineapple Express”, then you might appreciate my elaboration on why “The Sitter” barely cleared my D rating. Either way, there seems to be (yet another) new wave of comedy that threatens to challenge our creative existence like a planet-ending meteor.
In a nutshell, it’s the production quality and a precocious little actress named Landry Bender that keeps “The Sitter” above quicksand. Featuring toilet bombs, perfume sprays in the mouth and a few other things that the younger portion of the cast shouldn’t be allowed to watch for a few years, the gags are like a “Sesame Street” episode blazing on crack.
Jonah Hill plays Noah Griffith, a slacker college drop out who lives with his single mother Sandy (an adorable Jessica Hecht), and for lack of a better word, doesn’t do shit. Loose on morals, unstable in judgement, but somehow content with everything else, Noah is at once intellectual and obtuse, though his behavior would indicate the latter (when the phone rings, he yells to his mom “Hey, the phone is ringing! Mom, can you hear it?”). As dumb as he may appear, he’s looking forward to witnessing a magnetic storm that evening, suggesting there might be some greater calling regarding his education. There isn’t. As this will never come to fruition, we learn that Noah is at the mercy of his ‘girlfriend’ Marisa (Ari Graynor) and will do anything to have sex with her. Once we’ve established that he is profoundly lazy (and undeniably gullible), we discover that his mom has been set up on a date with a doctor whom she’ll meet at a cocktail party that evening. Upon finding out that their mutual friend’s babysitter has cancelled, the conflict calls on Noah to take the reigns: he’ll babysit the friend’s kids so his mom might find happiness, though it’s obvious he has no business in any position of responsibility.
So here we are, in a situation about as original as a “Three’s Company” episode if spiced up by “Diff’rent Strokes”, new millennium style. What begins as the typical set up for disaster turns into a quest to score cocaine for Marisa, who dangles the libido carrot to get what she wants from Noah. Bad decisions get worse, and so on. An urban flavor comes from a series of club-hopping scenes, kids in tow, and some unlikely dynamics develop like a combination of “Adventures In Babysitting” and “New Jack City”. Just think of Jonah Hill as Big Bird, fuse it to his character in “Get Him To The Greek” and replace the supporting cast with some maladjusted kids, and that’s the foundation of “The Sitter”. When director David Gordon Green shifts out of the dramatic, thought-provoking independent films that spawned his career in the late ’90s (acclaimed “Snow Angels”, “Undertow”), the lucrative ‘promised land’ of adult comedy seemed to offer some hope with this new direction. It’s a shame that Green stopped wearing his writing hat after he started working on the HBO series “Eastbound and Down”.
My initial observations of “The Sitter” are the following: it’s missing Danny McBride (Green’s go-to guy, “Eastbound and Down”), and it might be the last movie in which we get to see Jonah Hill play the overweight pseudo-cool oddity that is so familiar from films like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” (you’ll understand upon viewing the “21 Jump Street” trailer). With an executive producer credit on this one (under the umbrella of mega producer Michael De Luca), Hill doesn’t do much other than play another variation of that same character.
Fortunately for them, first time feature writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka can only be blamed for the story, not the execution. In our minds, it’s the least they could do to make the film interesting, as we learn that the children, Slater (Max Records), Blithe (Landry Bender, unquestionably the best performance) and adoptee Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) are the collective devil incarnate. It’s not all bad; in fact, there are some funny moments in the film. It’s just not very original, but at least there’s an objective. Unfortunately, that involves a low point in Sam Rockwell’s career as a wacked-out drug dealer named Karl, not to mention his annoying sidekick played by J.B. Smoove (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “Hall Pass”).
So this might have been a mistake for Green, as a career that once seemed to be developing into the second coming of Judd Apatow is now two films deep in its descent into whatever hell Adam Sandler films go to (though not from a box office standpoint). It’s disappointing that his shift in focus had to result in movies like “Your Highness” and subsequently “The Sitter”. I’m pretty sure the Three Stooges would high-five one another up in slapstick heaven to celebrate every Tom Shadyac and Farrelly film moment (“Ace Ventura”, “There’s Something About Mary” respectively), but would only find disappointment here with Green, despite his attempt at the obvious physical comedy. Nobody makes any sense, and unfortunately that takes the humor out of most of the scenes in the film. It eventually becomes irrelevant what any of the characters do (or say) and almost less important what happens to them (of course we know the kids are going to end up okay).
Ironically, it is right around the time that “The Sitter” peaks in its absurdity that it awkwardly inserts some morality and depth into the construct. Unfortunately, that is where the real jokes lie. After a while, the film becomes more frustrating than funny.