Little has flummoxed cinephiles like the curious case of David Gordon Green, a writer-director who started his career with George Washington and All The Real Girls, poetic visions of youth that had him looking like Terrence Malick’s heir apparent, but has lately resigned himself to major-studio slacker comedies like Pineapple Express and the unfortunate Your Highness. Green’s latest, The Sitter, seemingly falls firmly in the latter camp, as it once again champions an oafish layabout (Jonah Hill) who’s dragged into an adventure kicking and screaming. Yet in its best moments—and there are several good ones scattered across this ramshackle comedy—The Sitter is a reminder that Green’s sensibility has always been heavy on whimsy and play, and that maybe he hasn’t strayed that far from home. Trouble is, when you’re paying feature-length homage to Adventures In Babysitting, rather than something like Malick’s Days Of Heaven, the ceiling gets awfully low.
Built comfortably around Hill’s talent for amiable hostility, The Sitter casts him as a Bad Santa-type who reluctantly takes a babysitting job to help give his single mother a night out. His child-care style is just a notch above gross negligence. His three charges are all terrors in their own way: Max Records is an intensely neurotic, overmedicated head-case; younger sister Landry Bender imagines herself as a Kardashian, but looks more a Toddlers & Tiaras contender; and Kevin Hernandez, an El Salvadoran orphan, is a troublemaker with a flair for pyrotechnics. On a mission to please his awful girlfriend, Hill loads the kids into a minivan and heads into the city to score coke from an eccentric dealer (Sam Rockwell). Needless to say, things don’t go as planned.
In spite of the affection Green has for Adventures In Babysitting, The Sitter views the city as more goofy and surreal than hostile, which defuses the ugly racial politics of Babysitting and other ’80s suburban-family comedies. And unlike Elisabeth Shue, Hill has no intention of being a responsible caretaker, which makes him just as impulsive and easily distracted as the kids, dragging them (and the movie) into unexpected comic situations. (Filling out Rockwell’s drug lair with ’roided-out bodybuilders, a roller-skating lackey, and cocaine-packed dinosaur eggs is just one indication of the film’s loopiness.) Given its lumpy, episodic nature, The Sitter misses as often as it hits, and the stoner listlessness that dominated Your Highness occasionally creeps into the storytelling. Yet the precocious naïf behind George Washington hasn’t disappeared entirely here—it just takes a little squinting to see him.