Friday, February 10, 2012
Day 72: The Sitter
"Maybe use a bazooka next time instead of a sledgehammer. What are you El DeBarge?"
Director David Gordon Green has one of the more puzzling resumes in Hollywood. His feature debut George Washington is a leisurely paced meditation on small town Southern life. His next film All the Real Girls was a quirky love story featuring the best performance anyone's ever gotten out of Zooey Deschanel. With his next film, Undertow, people were dubbing him the heir apparent to Terrence Malick, a Southern director interested as much in languid pacing and nature as much as he was in characterization and storytelling. He made one more small film, Snow Angels, before taking his first, big, director-for-hire gig on 2008's Pineapple Express. That film is notable for featuring what I think are the best action sequences ever put in a comedy, because they felt real, they felt like a bunch of dudes who had no idea how to fight, fighting. He's also directed several episodes of the acclaimed HBO series Eastbound and Down which is written by and stars his friend Danny McBride.
Earlier this year he made one of the worst movies I've ever seen, Your Highness, gathering lots of people he'd worked with before (Deschanel, McBride & James Franco) and thoroughly wasting tons of time and money on a garbage stoner rehash of the 80s sword & sorcerer flicks. It's awful, don't waste your time or money. I know he's been friends with McBride for a long time, but it doesn't mean he has to indulge his every whim, particularly one so expensive and meaningless. I had little hope for The Sitter, not because I feel he's gone so far in the direction of just making stoner comedies, but because it felt like a movie I'd already seen before, and also because I'm not the biggest fan of Jonah Hill.
The Sitter defied my expectations, and I'm honestly willing to say that I kind of loved it. A lot of what makes it work is the fact that it plays directly into your expectations and gives you a damn enjoyable ride. Hill plays Noah, a college drop-out who lives at home with his mom, and has no direction in his life. His mom gets a chance to go out with some friends, but will have to cancel as her friends don't have a babysitter. Seeing this as an opportunity to help his mom get out and meet people, Noah agrees to babysit for the three children. There's Slater (Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are) a basket case trying to bury his feelings in medication, Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) their adopted son from El Salvador who's a bit of a pyromaniac, and, my favorite, Blithe (Landry Bender), an eight year old obsessed with celebutantes and wearing tons of makeup. When Marisa (Ari Graynor), a girl that Noah is sort of, kind of dating, calls him and promises him sex if he brings her some cocaine, he ushers the kids into their parents' mini-van and heads into New York City for a night of adventure.
The Adventures in Babysitting parallels are obvious, and I suppose that the fact that Noah's reasons for bringing the kids into the city are nowhere near as noble as the ones that forced Elisabeth Shue to do the same in that film, puts The Sitter at a dangerous disadvantage. We don't trust that Noah is a good enough guy to do the right thing in the end, so it does add an element of suspense to the entire film, but as the film goes on, and he begins to soften to the kids and sees himself in all three of them, it gives the film a major leg up on Adventures in Babysitting. There's a journey for all of the characters rather than just pure survival, and while I'm not about to say I like this film better or it's a superior film, it's certainly more nuanced than I was willing to give it credit for.
Above and beyond everything else that works, the main thing that this film has going for it is Sam Rockwell. I am an unabashed admirer of his, and I am of the opinion that he is the best actor working in film today. He's always the most interesting person on screen, in this or any other film he does, and he does some stellar work here. The first time I realized how awesome Sam Rockwell is was about forty-five minutes into Galaxy Quest when I said, "that's the guy from Green Mile." I've been a fan ever since. He's beyond brilliant in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, he's fantastic in Assassination of Jesse James & Moon, and will forever reside in my mind as the definitive version of Zaphod from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. To quote my friend Jason Bone, I'm not fit to touch the hem of his garment.
Here he plays a gay (I think) drug dealer named Karl who lives in some sort of bodybuilding warehouse where Noah has to go to buy the cocaine. There's oiled up muscle men everywhere, some cutting coke, some doing demolition to expand the space, some doing choreography, and some just getting their pump on. It's a phenomenal set-piece that left me wanting more, which is always the best possible feeling to get after a scene like that. His main men are Julio played by JB Smoove (Leon from Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Garv (Sean Patrick Doyle), his roller-skating flunky, on whom he pulls a Spider from Goodfellas in one of the funniest scenes in the film. To say there's too little Sam Rockwell in this film is an understatement, but he's of that school of character actors that always leaves you wanting more. That being said, I would happily pay my hard-earned money to watch an entire film with Rockwell and Smoove in it, they are fantastic together.
The film will likely have a dubious place in history as being the last movie to feature a fat Jonah Hill (as long as he doesn't backslide) and I think it's unfair to pin this film with such a legacy. It's a surprisingly good and touching film that stretches the bounds of believability at almost every juncture, but never loses sight of the fact that, at its core, the film is about a kid who was abandoned by his father and learned to cope with it, and now seeing a group of kids facing a similar predicament, genuinely wants them to know that they'll end up just fine. Maybe that's just what I took away from the movie, but I think that's certainly what the filmmakers were going for, and it works better than it has any right to.
It's safe to say that you can determine whether or not you'll like the film based on the trailer. If the trailer makes you laugh, the film will make you laugh, and if not, it won't. But give it a chance, I was really ready to dislike it, and I thought it was pretty great. There's nothing better than being surprised, or seeing a film that manages to be good in spite of what you think it will end up being, and The Sitter is one such film. I was laughing out loud frequently, especially at Sam Rockwell (who says the quote that opened my review), but I also laughed at Jonah Hill's Morrissey joke which no one else in the theater laughed at. There's tons of 80s pop culture references that will fly over the heads of today's teenagers, but they're there, and they're hysterical. At the very least, give The Sitter a rent. You likely won't regret it.