Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Sitter

THE SITTER               C                    
USA  (81 mi)  2011  d:  David Gordon Green

One way to approach David Gordon Green’s descent away from art films and into the more lucrative Hollywood industry is to think of this movie as little more than an extended short, as basically this is a one idea film, all the things that could go wrong with a completely inept and unqualified babysitter, using a variation on WC Field’s contemptuous view of children theme and then attacking the audience with anarchistic set pieces that will either leave you laughing at the derisive nature of the beast or bolting from the theater in disgust.  If the idea is simply to provoke a reaction, then Green has likely succeeded, though this was probably more fun on the set than the finished product onscreen, likely the case in far too many comedies.  What’s missing here is a cohesive whole, as instead it’s something of a sprawling mess of various likely improvised ideas that never really come together.   

Rather than a just missed comedy, this may be a huge quasi experimental misstep that is amusing by just how far away from comedy this movie occasionally travels, reminiscent of the Macaulay Caulkin HOME ALONE (1990, 1992) series which was one extended misadventure filled with ludicrous set ups and sight gags that in themselves became ridiculous after awhile.  What this mostly resembles, however, are the Doctor Seuss children stories, where kids are left pretty much on their own with no discernable adult presence where they run amok creating havoc and mischief for a brief period before everything returns back to normal by the time their parents get home.  That’s pretty much the film, which includes the random screw ups of the adult sitter in charge, the man-child Jonah Hill as the clueless Noah.  It always helps if the kids can have mature moments when they act much older than their ages, allowing each, by the end, to benefit from the time spent with one other. 

From the outset, using his familiar cinematographer Tim Orr, Green loves to use inventive camera shots, from double to triple screen, superimposed imagery, slow mo and fast action sequences, and even a sideways cam, all a bit offsetting and disruptive from the comfort zone of the viewer, but also offering a taste of the world being viewed from a slightly different vantage point that has tilted askew.  While some may find stereotypes offensive, they are fairly prevalent in comedy sketches, and this film has a field day exuding the pleasures of exploitation flicks which are in the wheelhouse of this director who grew up with 70’s and 80's films.  Taking a riff on the American mainstream family portrayal, Green takes a look at living in the posh neighborhoods of the lily white suburbs with overly pampered and alienated kids, clueless parents who have their own sexual repressive and adulterous issues, where one parent routinely has to look away in order to maintain the high quality of life to which they’ve become accustomed, where morality is a smokescreen, something you purchase in order to impress others with instead of upholding any personal convictions. 

This is the backdrop of the story, where Noah, an aimless, overweight and unemployed twenty something who has amounted to nothing in life is still living at home with his single mother, where they both commiserate over the evils of his absent dad who has left them high and dry, now running a highly successful business yet still lags woefully behind on his alimony payments.  Noah routinely degrades himself for female companionship, where self-absorbed Marisa (Air Gaynor) allows him to pleasure her while keeping all other sexual contact off the table.  When his mom finally has a chance to go out and have an evening of her own, it’s nearly spoiled when the couple she’s going to a social event with loses their babysitter at the last moment, allowing Noah to fill in, where he’s interestingly introduced to three misfits, Slater (Max Records), the overmedicated kid who's pretty much afraid of all human contact, Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), the adopted Central American child with a penchant for explosives and wearing cowboy boots with pajamas, and Blithe (Landry Bender), the reincarnation of Jonbenet Ramsey, an adorable young child with an eye on becoming a celebrity with a flair for gossip and the excessive use of sparkle make up. 

When Marisa calls from a party offering full sexual contact if he’ll score some coke and come pick her up, all bets are off on conventional babysitting as Noah stashes the kids in the back of the family minivan for a rollicking escapade on the town, where he has a few stops to make along the way, all of which explode in his face with things going wrong, including a hilarious trip to a warehouse filled with scantily clad male bodybuilders where a gay escort on roller skates (Sean Patrick Doyle) leads them inside to see Karl (Sam Rockwell), the coked up, out of control drug dealer (with his portrait on the wall) who wants everybody to be his friend, actually ranking them by number, where he’s continually challenged to make on the spot readjustments with each new person he meets.  Karl believes in manly hugs, loyalty and likeability, pointing guns at anyone who falls out of line, which is Noah when Rodrigo makes off with Karl’s personal stash.  Turning into something of a spirited, free wheeling romp, where blacksploitation action, gangsta rap, and a gorgeous black girl friend Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury) literally drop out of the sky offering him a reprieve from the mediocrity of life in the suburbs.  A lighthearted story about being true to yourself, it’s a minor riff on middle class complacency, much of which feels generic and is not so much about anything as expressing a message of creating your own unique style of living, where it’s best not to take anyone or anything for granted. While enjoyable at times, it’s also completely forgettable.  

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