December 10, 2011

Sitter, The

starstar

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Sitter, The

COMEDY:

United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-12-09

Running Length:

1:21

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Sexual Content, Drugs)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jonah Hill, Ari Graynor, Sam Rockwell, Max Records, Landry Bender, Kevin Hernandez

Director:

David Gordon Green

Screenplay:

Brian Gatewood & Alessandro Tanaka

Cinematography:

Tim Orr

Music:

Jeff McIlwain, David Wingo

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


The Sitter fits neatly into the mediocre, generic comedy category - a classification reserved for films that are neither funny enough nor raunchy enough nor smart enough to do more than consume time and dull the senses. One could argue that these are among the most difficult movies to watch because, although not incompetently made, their entertainment value is minimal - they can't even be enjoyed in a "so bad they're good" sense. An optimist can find things to like about them, but the bright spots are overwhelmed by the drudgery of the whole. For every laugh offered by The Sitter, there are five minutes of boredom and at least one failed scene of would-be "dramatic" character building. The template is similar to one employed by many '80s and '90s comedies, most of which are long forgotten - as this one will soon be.

The Sitter is sort of an Adventures in Babysitting with a potty mouth. Surprisingly, in an era when each new R-rated comedy tries to outdo its predecessors in its debauched celebration of bad behavior, this one is tame. There's plenty of raunchy talk, but no nudity and not a lot of sex. It's almost as if this was designed to be a PG-13 movie and someone decided at the last moment to throw in a gratuitous oral sex scene and a bunch of F-bombs to make it a more "adult" endeavor.

Noah (Jonah Hill) is a generally likeable guy who lacks drive and ambition. He performs cunnilingus on his "girlfriend", Marisa (Ari Graynor), in the hope that she'll return the favor. When she doesn't, he sits on the couch and vegetates in front of the TV. In order to make a little money and help out his mother, he agrees to babysit for three kids: the soulful loner, Slater (Max Records); the precocious princess, Blithe (Landry Bender); and the recently adopted Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), whose love of fireworks makes him a walking fire hazard. Everything seems to be going fine - or as fine as it can be with an explosives-lover on the premesis - until Noah gets a call from Marisa. She's horny and wants to have sex with him if he can get himself to her location asap. She also demands that he pay a visit to her drug dealer friend, Karl (Sam Rockwell), to pick up some coke. Unwilling to pass up this opportunity to advance his relationship with Marisa, Noah bundles his charges into the family minivan and heads off on a night of predictable misadventures.

For the most part, The Sitter feels tired and recycled. The strangest (and therefore most interesting) segment occurs when Noah enters Karl's bizzaro compound, where about a dozen bare-chested, muscle-bound heavies are pumping iron to the tune of "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)." This is the kind of weirdness that, had there been a lot more of it, would have made The Sitter worth sitting through. As it is, it's 80 minutes of mostly generic Murphy's Law crap, although it seems a lot longer than the skinny running time would suggest.

In all fairness, Jonah Hill's performance exhibits nuances one doesn't expect from this kind of character in this sort of movie. Noah's actions are weighed down by loneliness and regret. There's something sad and believable in the way he allows himself to be used by Marisa - it's obvious to everyone but him that she's interested only in what she can get from him. There's no relationship there, but Noah becomes putty in her hand when she calls him her "boyfriend." Hill's portrayal of the character brings out these elements, although that may be part of the reason why a lot of the humor doesn't click - it's not much fun to see a pitiable, basically good guy put through the ringer like this. On the other hand, Sam Rockwell is a hoot. His bipolar Karl is reminiscent of the Timothy Olyphant character in The Girl Next Door - friendly one moment, murderous the next. The kids are generic movie kids, capable only of the minimal range required from them by the script.

For director David Gordon Green, the indie filmmaker who made his mark with small productions like George Washington and All the Real Girls, this represents his second disappointing mainstream comedy, following in the wake of Your Highness. At times, one can almost sense a more interesting movie trying to emerge from The Sitter, but it is smothered by unfunny jokes, clichéd drama, and a formulaic narrative. Wherever Green's strengths may lie, his last two efforts indicate they are not in the multiplex-bound comedy field.

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