Jonah Hill comedy tries to balance tasteless humor with warm fuzzies but fails at both
It’s one thing to make a bawdy and tasteless comedy if you’re going to commit to making a bawdy and tasteless comedy. But “The Sitter” wants to have its urinal cake and eat it too, pushing the envelope of taste one minute and then delivering maudlin little life lessons the next.
Jonah Hill —this was apparently filmed back in his zaftig period — stars as Noah, a jobless 20-something college dropout who thinks that Marisa (Ari Graynor) is his girlfriend, even though she’s clearly using him as her lackey and occasional provider of oral pleasure.
As a favor to his mom, Noah takes a job babysitting neighbor kids Slater (Max Records of “Where the Wild Things Are), a teen neurotic; Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an adopted Salvadoran with a proclivity for indoor pyrotechnics; and Blithe (Landry Bender), a nine-year-old who aspires to be a celebutante.
When Marisa promises sexual reciprocation in exchange for Noah buying her coke from unhinged dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell) and bringing it to a loft party in Brooklyn, Noah drags his young charges through the streets of New York in an attempt to deliver his cargo while eluding a newly-angered Karl, who wants $10,000 for the package that Rodrigo accidentally stole from his bathroom.
If all of this sounds like a shameless rip-off of 1987’s “Adventures in Babysitting,” well — yes. Yes, it is. And while “Babysitting” was always a decidedly second-tier teen comedy of the 1980s, it looks like a masterpiece of John Hughes–ian proportions next to the charmless and tacky “The Sitter.”
First-time screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka obviously set out to give the material an R-rated spin, loading the film with sexual debauchery, drugs, and foul-mouthed children. But either they or the studio or director David Gordon Green apparently had a failure of nerve; Noah, for example, starts out aggressively unlikable but winds up being a misunderstood guy who’s had some bad breaks.
The film also totally hedges its bets by attempting to be shocking (although never, alas, very funny) but then immediately back-pedaling. We’re meant to be amused by the musclemen in Speedos surrounding Karl — like Rockwell hadn’t already given us enough stale gay stereotypes in “Gentlemen Broncos” — but then there’s a moment that shoots for poignancy when Noah gives an “it gets better” booster speech to a confused and closeted youth. Then there are the offensive African-American stereotypes, which the movie thinks it can leaven by giving us both a nice black girl as a potential love interest for Noah as well as some third-act “magical Negroes” who come to Noah’s rescue.
Not that “The Sitter” succeeds at being either a shocking comedy or a heartwarming character study, but it most definitely fails at trying to mash the two things together.
That’s a real shame, considering that Green started his career as the filmmaker behind acclaimed indies like “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls,” with that early promise spilling into his major-studio debut “Pineapple Express,” a surprisingly daring comedy that pushed bro-mantic boundaries and kept the laughs coming even amidst serious violence.
In 2011, however, Green flopped with the staggeringly unfunny “Your Highness” and now with “The Sitter,” an 81-minute comedy that feels twice as long as “J. Edgar,” and only half as funny. Don’t waste those 4,860 seconds on this wretched fiasco.