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Sitter, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Where's A British Nanny When You Need One?"
1 stars

For many people, "The Sitter" will come across as just another noisy and half-assed stab at raunchy humor that will quickly come and go from theaters before spending eternity in heavy rotation on Comedy Central. For those with an interest in contemporary cinema, however, it serves as yet another nail in the coffin in the career of the once-promising filmmaker David Gordon Green. When he came out of nowhere in 2000 with his haunting and lyrical indie debut "George Washington," he was hailed as a genius by critics around the world. Over the next few years, he followed that film up with such equally impressive works as "All the Real Girls," "Undertow" and the utterly heartbreaking "Snow Angels" and while none of those films may have been box-office smashes, they demonstrated an artistic maturity far beyond his years and marked him as one of the most fascinating young directors working today. He then confounded everyone by signing on to direct a broad and raucous comedy for producer Judd Apatow that seemed to be the total antithesis of his previous work but the resulting film, "Pineapple Express," turned out to be a resounding triumph that demonstrated that Green could work outside of his comfort zone on a project that could appeal to the mass audience while still containing enough personal touches to make it into some thing more than the typical multiplex fodder.

More significantly, "Pineapple Express" was a big financial success to boot--it probably made more money than all of his previous films combined before the end of its first afternoon of release--and made enough money to ensure that Green could pretty much do whatever he wanted for his next project and the studios would be lining up for the privilege of paying for it in the hopes that lightning might strike twice. That follow-up, released earlier this year, was "Your Highness," a bizarre and expensive spoof of '80's-era fantasy epics along the lines of such cable staples as "The Beastmaster" and "Krull" filled with elaborate special effects, lots of pot-related humor and the sight of Natalie Portman, just a few weeks after winning an Oscar for "Black Swan," sporting a thong and fighting off the advances of the eternally loathsome Danny McBride. The end result was so jaw-droppingly awful that the whole thing at times felt like an incredibly elaborate prank that Green was pulling on the entire studio system.

If so, the joke turned out to be on him because the film not only bombed at the box-office but its sheer crumminess stunned his loyal fanbase that it single-handedly shook their faith in his abilities. If there was anything that his supporters were able to take away from that debacle, it was the sense that it was such a disaster on so many levels that it got all of the nonsense out of his system and that it would merely go down as a brief but brutal aberration in an otherwise exemplary filmography. Unfortunately, to go by the basis of "The Sitter," the guy who was compared to no less a figure than Terrence Malick now seems to be aspiring to be the next Chris Columbus instead and while that would be bad enough as it is, what makes it even worse that he fails to meet even that lowly goal with an ugly little exercise in tedium whose chief selling points are its abbreviated running time (even with end credits, it barely passes the 80-minute mark) and the fact that it is slightly better than "Your Highness," though nowhere near as ambitious in its style, scope or departure from anything resembling common sense.

Jonah Hill stars as Noah, a young slacker whose entire life is in a state of seemingly terminal stasis--he has been suspended from college, he has no job, he lives with his mom (Jessica Hecht) and when it comes to his relationship with his semi-girlfriend Marisa (Ari Graynor), let it be said that he is always on the giving end of thing and never on the receiving, if you know what I mean and if you don't, you are clearly not the target audience for this particular item. As our story opens, he has inexplicably been coaxed into babysitting the neighbors' kids for the night so that his mother can go out with them to some fancy event. Inevitably, the kids turn out to be wackos--Slater (Max Records) is a budding neurotic with enough anxieties to fill out the neighborhood's quota of angst single-handedly, Blithe (Landry Bender) is a celebutante-in-training with a propensity for makeup and clothing that the folks on "Tiaras & Tots" might find gauche and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernndez), a adoptee from Colombia who likes to break, blow up or urinate on anything in sight just for the sheer destructive hell of it.

Just as inevitably, Noah has barely settled in when Marisa calls him up to invite him to a party, asks him to pick up some cocaine along the way and offers herself up as the metaphorical chlorophyll gumball at the end of this particular maze. Clearly hankering for a taste of gumball, he packs the kids into the minivan and before you can say "After Hours" or "Adventures in Babysitting" or "Date Night," he becomes embroiled in one misadventure after another involving a fey-but-psychotic drug dealer (Sam Rockwell), angry black people, stolen cars, explosions, a crashed bat mitzvah, corrupt cops, missing drugs, a nice girl and firecrackers to the crotch. Oh wait, there are also "sincere" moments as well in which Noah confronts his deadbeat dad, straightens up his maladjusted charges and finally begins to realize that his sort-of relationship with Marisa may not be the healthiest thing for his physical or emotional well-being. About the only thing not included here is a loutish cameo from Danny McBride but then again, I suppose that there is always the possibility of an extended edition on Blu-Ray, a theoretical notion almost as depressing and unfunny to contemplate as the film itself.

Needless to say, even the most hardcore auteurists out there would be hard-pressed to find anything distinctive enough in "The Sitter" to suggest that it was made by the likes of David Gordon Green or any sentient being for that matter. Even "Your Highness," as awful as it was, had enough personality to suggest that it was indeed a unique vision that was being brought to life. "The Sitter," on the other hand, feels like any below-average slob comedy destined to one day ride the DVD alongside such spiritual forefathers as "Sex Drive" and the DTV "American Pie" sequels. Only one scene--a brief bit with Noah and the kids riding the subway late at night--has the kind of offbeat and lovely lyricism that was the hallmark of Green's earlier films and even turned up here and there amidst the chaos of "Pineapple Express." Beyond that, it has the same frantic pacing and ugly visual sheen of any other low-rent comedy Green handles the material in such a perfunctory manner that it almost feels as if he is ashamed to bing slinging the same old crap around.

And oh brother, is there a lot of crap being flung around here. The screenplay by seems to have one basic comedic concept--that saying and doing dark, dangerous and dirty-minded things in the presence of young children is inherently amusing--and proceeds to beat that one particular gong for the duration and grows very tiresome after a while. (Besides, I like to think that whatever comedic mileage that could be wrung out of combining kids and cocaine was fully exploited to funnier effect in the comparatively subtle--and I can't believe I just wrote those words--"A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas.") If the film had fully embraced its sleazy side, I suppose it could have been transformed into an amusing bit of bad taste and bad manners in the vein of "Bad Santa" but the screenplay has a tendency to offer up something borderline offensive to get the hoots from the frat boys in the audience, such as a collection of gay stereotypes straight outta "Cruising" and then tries to cover itself a few scenes later with an achingly straightforward speech about how there is nothing wrong with being gay that feels so forced that it practically sounds like a disclaimer mandated by the legal department. Now if these oh-so-sincere moments were treated satirically, something might have sparked from it but no such luck.

The performances are also deeply annoying as well. Hill flounders around like a would-be Chris Farley and demonstrates none of the subtlety that he has shown in films like "Moneyball" or even "Superbad." The kids are collectively irritating throughout and the sight of them screaming and swearing wears as well as anything else, which to say not very well. This is a surprise in one case because Max Records contributed one of the most affecting performances from a child in recent years in "Where the Wild Things Are"--of course, he had better and more believable material to work from in that case. As for the usually reliable Sam Rockwell, he delivers a turn that is so awful and unfunny that it feels at times as though he lost some kind of ill-advised wager and his participation here is his form of payment. If that is the case, I strongly recommend to him that the next time something like this happens, keep your dignity and let them take your thumbs instead.

I have to admit that if "The Sitter" had been made by practically any other filmmaker, I probably would not have been quite as offended by its laziness or lack of any discernible comedic point-of-view; hell, in most cases, I probably wouldn't have even bothered to see it in the first except as a completist. However, the sight of watching a director as talented as David Gordon Green squander his gifts on something so devoid of anything resembling a genuine artistic perspective is too depressing to ignore. Yes, his earlier works are bold and brilliant films that anyone who loves the art form should see and embrace but based solely on his work here, I'm not sure that I would trust him to handle an episode of that silly Zooey Deschanel TV show. If there is a bright side to the comedic black hole that is "The Sitter," it is the thought that Green has, between this and "Your Highness," pretty much hit his creative rock bottom and that he will now regroup and refocus his energies into work more deserving of his talent. Quite frankly, he is simply too good for junk like "The Sitter" and I can only hope that he comes to realize that himself before it is too late.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20779&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/09/11 07:09:46
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User Comments

5/01/12 Monday Morning Hey Peter Sobczynski, get a life instead of spending hours reviewing crap movies. 3 stars
1/25/12 Devin Sabas funny movie that didnt pull punches. im going to miss fat jonah hill 4 stars
12/20/11 Stacie Clark I really liked this movie! 4 stars
12/16/11 Ming I love the Adventure of Babysitting. This film remind me alot of it except for the R 3 stars
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  09-Dec-2011 (R)
  DVD: 20-Mar-2012


  DVD: 20-Mar-2012

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