Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Comedian Jonah Hill usually plays a goof-off in a group of guys. He appeared in director Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" as well as "Funny People" as part of a bunch of guys. Although Hill took top billing in "Superbad," Michael Cera attracted the lion's share of attention in that Judd Apatow produced teen comedy. Hill shared the screen with Russell Brand in another Judd Apatow produced laffer "Get Him to the Greek," but Brand dominated that comedy with his hopelessly eccentric persona. Now, in "Pineapple Express" director David Gordon Greene's "The Sitter," Jonah Hill plays top dog. Not only does he star as the protagonist, but he also is the butt of most of the humorous jokes.

Anybody who has seen the wonderful Christopher Columbus comedy "Adventures in Babysitting" (1987) might discern the palatable resemblance between "The Sitter"
(**** out of ****) and the former film. Freshman scribes Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka must have seen "Adventures in Babysitting," too, because Gordon's film involves a similar sequence of events. Circumstances compel our reluctant hero to serve as a babysitter. Later, he finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place. Meaning, our hero must break rule number one of babysitting and leave the house. He must also break rule number two and take the children with him. Next, he breaks rule number three; he endangers their lives when he takes them in harm's way. The pay-off is that the kids learn some of life's harsh truths and experience a change in attitude about themselves. In fact, everybody, including the hero, learn something about themselves that they didn't know. The resemblance between the Chris Columbus movie and David Gordon Greene's movie ends at this point. "Adventures in Babysitting" qualified a mild PG-13 that skirted an R-rating, but kids and adults both can enjoy it. On the contrary, "The Sitter" deserves its R-rating for all of its profanity,
sexuality, and intense situations.

"The Sitter" is about the madcap misadventures of Noah Griffith (Jonah Hill of "Accepted"), a college drop-out slacker living at home with his single mom. Noah is such a pathetic character that he doesn't own a car and has to pedal around on his bicycle to visit his whiny blond girlfriend Marisa Lewis (Ari Graynor of "Mystic River") who is on the rebound. Our selfish hero winds up helping out his mother, Sandy Griffith (Jessica Hecht of "Sideways"), when he agrees to babysit three children for her. It seems that Sandy's dear friend Mrs. Pedulla (Erin Daniels of "One Hour Photo") has arranged a dinner date for her so Sandy can meet a bachelor surgeon. The backstory is that Noah's estranged father, Jim Griffith (Bruce Altman of "Matchstick Men"), who is a wealthy diamond salesman, divorced Sandy and wrangled a legal way out of paying her alimony. In fact, Jim left Sandy because he was cheating on her with the girl who he hired to babysit Noah. Now, Sandy has a shot at finding a husband, but there is a catch. When Mrs. Padilla's regular babysitter winds up with a urinary tract infection and cannot watch the kids, it looks like Pedullas will have to cancel the dinner date. Initially, Sandy tries to persuade Noah to substitute for the regular babysitter, but Noah objects. He argues that he is a grown man and grown men do not babysit. Noah realizes, however, that he is being self-centered and depriving his single mom of a chance to find happiness.

The wild and chaotic evening which ensues is one of the most traumatic in Noah's life. Everything looks pretty simple until he encounters the Pedulla kids. First, 9-year-old Blithe (newcomer Landry Bender) wants to grow up to become a media 'celebutante' like either Paris Hilton oLindsay Lohan. She copious amounts of make-up. Second, Blithe's 13-year old brother Slater (Max Records of "Where the Wild Things Are") suffers from a sexual identity crisis. As a result, his psychiatrist keeps him heavily medicated. What Max refuses to recognize is he is a latent gay tendencies. The Pedulla's third child is an El Salvadoran refugee, Rodrigo (newcomer Kevin Hernandez) with an anger management problem. Whereas Slater is mild-manner and repressed, Rodrigo is a full-tilt anus who loves to toy with explosives. Rodrigo's favorite pastime is tossing cherry bombs into toilets. Rodrigo isn't happy because he keeps getting foisted off on one foster home after another because of his
destructive antics.

No sooner have the Pedullas and Noah's mom embarked on their dinner date than Marisa phones Noah. She informs him she is finally prepared to have sex with him if he can score some coke for a friend. Impulsively, Noah throws caution to the wind. He piles the Pedulla children into their mini-van and cruises into New York City with them to buy cocaine from a psychotic dealer, Karl (Sam Rockwell of "Cowboys and Aliens"), who surrounds himself with muscle-bound bodybuilders. Rodrigo purloins one of Karl's prized dinosaur eggs packed with $10-thousand worth of coke. When Rodrigo and Noah tangle in a tug of war over the egg, they crack it and cocaine covers Noah's face. Later, a group of African-American gangstas steal the Pedullas' mini-van that Noah commandeered for their Manhattan melodrama. Now, Karl wants to ice Noah if our hero doesn't pay for the cocaine, and Noah still wants to hook-up with Maria.

Essentially, "The Sitter" constitutes a fish-out-of-water comedy where characters find themselves off their home turf at the mercy of merciless minions. Everything that can go wrong for Noah does go wrong. Miraculously, he manages to keep his bacon from getting fried, but in the process winds up running an incredibly hilarious gauntlet. The often profane but imaginative dialogue is as memorable as the diverse characters are crazy. These are the most grown-up urchins that you will ever see in a mainstream movie. Mind you, this is neither the kind of movie that you should take a child to see nor is it the kind you should watch if you like to sympathize with the protagonist. Aside from our Noah's mother and one of his college friends, virtually every character in "The Sitter" is fairly obnoxious. Our hero is the kind of guy who is not entirely trustworthy but he owns up to his mistakes and "The Sitter" ends on a positive note.