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The Sitter

It's tough to find the right note of comedy in a movie about an irresponsible man endangering the lives of children. At least in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, everything is so over the top that nothing can be taken seriously. But in The Sitter, Director David Gordon Green wants to have things both ways – everything's going to be okay in this comedy, but some actions have consequences and good lord, are there some scary things in this world.

Perhaps inspired by the goofier 80s film Adventures in Babysitting, The Sitter offers us Noah Griffith (Jonah Hill), a slacker college drop-out in a bad relationship and no good future ahead. At least he loves his mother, providing the macguffin that causes him to babysit the three troubled children of wealthy family friends.

Each child is a slice of stereotype from the "Isn't it awful what's happening to kids these days" book. Slater (Max Records) has a severe anxiety disorder and he's not even out of middle school. Little sister Blithe (Landry Bender) has an obsession with celebutantes, and keeps blurting out bits of sexual precocity that at least the script has the good sense to judge as wrong.

Finally, there's an adopted child from El Salvador, Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), definitely a wounded soul, but introduced as just a terror. Pay attention, because since Rodrigo is from a troubled country, he has a particular obsession with explosives and adoptive parents who can't seem to keep him from getting them.

Of course, all three have a reason for their problems, and along with Noah, they all have a little growing up to do. (Or in Blithe's case, a little just being a kid to do.) The path of the movie is pretty obvious, but that isn't necessarily what makes it hard to like.

Noah isn't just irresponsible and self-absorbed, he's alternately incredibly stupid, dishonest and self-righteous. When his "girlfriend" Marisa (Ari Graynor) asks him to get some cocaine for a party, Noah loads up the kids and heads to the heart of New York's darkness in order to score. Thus these adventures start turning into After Hours.

At least Green has a few actors who can fit in both tones he's trying to hit. Sam Rockwell shows up as the somewhat fey drug lord Karl, alternately quirkily charming and stone cold dangerous. But he's backed by JB Smoove as his sidekick Julio, and it's hard to take him seriously or really find him funny with the stakes so high.

Because you can't stop that voice screaming in the back of your head, "there's nothing noble about Noah's quest, these kids are going through hell!" And then Rodrigo blows up something, and we're supposed to laugh because, well, boom boom.

Where Green handles things well is in quiet dramatic character moments. After Noah has figured out that he really has gone too far, his heart to heart with the troubled Slater actually resonates. Even explaining some of Noah's own problems in an underplayed confrontation with his father (Bruce Altman) hints at what this movie could have been if it had just been a drama.

To be fair, as a comedic actor Hill has a love him or hate him quality, and this is the last movie in which he can just schlep through as the obese buffoon. He's not a bad actor (brilliant in Cyrus, great animated voice-over work especially in his Fox series Allen Gregory and eventually, I'll see Moneyball); he can just be really lazy in comedy, trading off the reputation he earned in Superbad instead of building on it.

Maybe it will hit with an audience the same age as Hill's slacker character. The Sitter just left me afraid to leave my kids with a sitter ever again.

Derek McCaw

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