Yet again, I find myself in the position of not knowing how to feel. The Sitter is a strange movie – a raunchy comedy, buddy movie, and action picture all rolled into one. That it involves children in the same space as drug dealers, thugs, prostitutes, jewel heists, gunshots, fistfights, cocaine, and explosives is nothing short of reprehensible. That it works regardless is nothing short of miraculous. For director David Gordon Green, it represents either enormous confidence or extreme stupidity. When it isn’t resorting to desperately broad levels of low-grade humor, it makes candid statements about responsibility and self-esteem that are overly sentimental, as if they were transplanted from an afterschool special. Because of this, there’s never a moment when something doesn’t feel grossly out of place.
What I can say with absolute certainty is that it didn’t stir within me the same hatred I felt for Green’s previous feature, the hopelessly strained and profoundly unfunny Your Highness. That being said, at least I was sure how I felt about that film. In this case, I’m torn between admiring Green’s audacity and condemning him for allowing something so atmospherically inconsistent into theaters. This movie truly does not know what it wants to be. I found myself laughing on several occasions, although never once at what was happening in the story; I was, for some inexplicable reason, amused by the filmmaker’s attempts to make it into something more than it actually is. The Sitter might be worth seeing only on the basis that you may never see anything like it again.
Taking place somewhere in New York, the plot involves a suspended college student named Noah (a pre-weight loss Jonah Hill), who lives with his mom. They have a brief discussion over his lack of employment, after which he’s roped into a babysitting job.
Here enters the Pedulla family. The first shot of the mom (Erin Daniels) immediately pans down to her chest and gives us an ample view of her cleavage. We then meet her children. Slater (Max Records) is a sullen thirteen-year-old who treats his anxiety disorders with medication he keeps in a fanny pack. He constantly texts a boy from school in a desperate attempt to find out why he isn’t hanging around anymore. His little sister, Blithe (Landry Bender), dreams of being a celebutante and spends every waking moment playing the part. She dresses in hip clothing, wears gaudy makeup, listens to hip hop, and fantasizes about going to trendy clubs. Their adopted brother, Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), is from El Salvador. He talks like a murderous warlord and has a habit of running away. He wears a leather jacket and boots, enjoys destroying fragile items, and has a fine collection of cherry bombs. Needless to say, one or two toilets will explode before the night is over.
Initially, Noah and the kids don’t get along, Blithe least of all. It doesn’t help that, during their first encounter, she sprays perfume into his mouth. Not long after the parents leave for the night, Noah gets a call from his self-centered girlfriend, Marisa (Ari Graynor). She’ll have sex with him, but only if he brings a stash of cocaine to a party she’s attending in the city. He, of course, says yes, although this means having to take the kids with him. His first stop is the den of a drug dealer named Karl (Sam Rockwell), who, despite being a psychopath, insists on giving out hugs and likes to rank his friendships. I have never been to a drug den, although I suspect none of them are frequented by shirtless gay bodybuilders doing construction work. The sentry, a flamboyant Hispanic, glides around on roller skates. He will eventually be shot in the leg, but so it goes.
And things just sort of snowball from here. Rodrigo steals an egg full of cocaine. Yes, an egg. Karl must be compensated $10,000 by midnight, or else. Noah goes to his awful deadbeat dad for help, knowing not long after that he won’t be receiving it. A car will be stolen. He will break into a jewelry store. He will get into a scuffle with a black woman who was at one time his high school classmate; I leave it to you to find out why she’s mad at him. He will get into a fight with Marisa’s ex-boyfriend. When the action pauses, he will have shockingly thoughtful conversations with the kids, who eventually realize how badly they’ve been behaving and decide to help Noah survive the night. He will also meet another former high school classmate, a young woman who shares his passion for astronomy and awaits the arrival of a magnetic storm. And, of course, the kids have to somehow get home before the parents do.
Is this movie for real? I can understand why critics haven’t responded to it; the tone is inconsistent, the plot meanders, the characters are barely-developed caricatures that are nothing close to authentic (especially the kids), and the performances are hilariously unconvincing. I share in these criticisms. But somehow, I’m prevented from dismissing this movie altogether. There’s something so irresistibly alien about it. You may not find it funny. You may not even understand it. But it’s unlikely you’ll be able to tear your eyes away during any of its eighty-one minutes. There are some people who have insulated themselves in their own oddness so that they can’t be harmed no matter what anyone else does. The Sitter works in very much the same way. Take that for whatever its worth.
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20th Century Fox