Directed by: David Gordon Green
Premise: A lazy young man (Jonah Hill) accepts a one-night babysitting job. When his girlfriend makes him an offer he can’t refuse, he takes the kids on a journey into the city that quickly gets out of control.
What Works: Jonah Hill is a good actor and there are a few moments in which he gets to showcase that talent. Hill’s character is lazy and unmotivated but the actor works in some moments where he reveals that his character does have a heart. This occurs early on in some of the character’s scenes with his mother and later scenes with the children in his charge. Had the film focused on scenes like this, The Sitter might have achieved success along the lines of Role Models or I Love You, Man.
What Doesn’t: There are a lot of problems with The Sitter but the main flaw is that this is a comedy that isn’t funny. Comedy is based on the unexpected or ironic reversals of the audience’s expectations. The Sitter does not do that. Every scene follows an obvious route and there are literally no laughs to be found in this film. When the baby sitter and the kids journey into the city, every set piece repeats the same joke every time. The middle of the picture is a string of scenarios in which the babysitter and the kids arrive at a location and then one of the kids, usually the adopted Hispanic boy, does something destructive or repulsive, like urinating in public or dropping a bomb in a toilet, at which point the group runs away, drives to a new location while bickering all the way, and repeats the same scenario. The gags are poorly set up and executed. There is no surprise to any of this, even in the first encounter, and by the time the film gets to its third rehash of the hit-and-run scenario The Sitter has already lost its ability to redeem itself. The failure of the comedy is even more bothersome because of the film’s inelegant juxtaposition of crass humor with some serious personal issues by the children. The daughter confesses that she knows that her father is having an affair and the teenage son confronts issues with his sexual orientation. These scenes open up important and heavy thematic material; each one could be a movie in itself. But the film only uses these scenes to pause for an artificial and contrived bonding moment, and then move on to the next unfunny comedy set piece. But the most troubling scenes in The Sitter are not its unfunny comedy or its clumsy drama; this film also courts blatantly racist humor. The Sitter includes a scene in which Hill’s character and the kids go to a bar populated by African Americans. Hill’s attempts to pass himself off in the environment by imitating the African American characters might be funny if his awkwardness was the source of humor but it isn’t. All the African American characters in this scene act and talk like Hill’s embarrassing imitation and the characters of color are loud, stupid, and brutish stereotypes of the most obvious order. This is indicative of a broader trend in recent comedies. Early films from Judd Apatow and his protégés like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Anchorman flirted with racism, sexism, and homophobia. In those early films, these attitudes, actions, and remarks were attributed to characters that the audience laughed at. Over the past few years, and especially throughout 2011 with films like The Change Up and The Hangover Part II, the audience has shifted to laughing with these characters. This is a pernicious trend that is sending movies and the comedy genre marching backwards and it makes The Sitter not only boring and unfunny but ugly and insulting.
Bottom Line: The Sitter is a terrible film. There isn’t anything redeeming about it and it is indicative of the sorry state of that much of the comedy genre has descended into.
Episode: #368 (December 18, 2011)