And, with an under-the-wire entry from acclaimed writer-director David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls), the award season’s best-picture race just got very, very interesting. Naw, I’m messing with you. Everybody knows the once-promising auteur went Hollywood years ago and is now content to crank out paycheck pictures such as Pineapple Express and Your Highness, perhaps the worst film ever made by a good director.
But, if there were an award for Picture You Expected to Be Borderline Fecal That Surprised You by Proving Howlingly Funny, The Sitter would be a shoo-in. I haven’t laughed this hard since the UPS guy rang my doorbell and handed me a For Your Consideration DVD of Tower Heist. (I’m not kidding this time.)
What we’ve got here, essentially, is an unacknowledged remake of Adventures in Babysitting (1987) with Jonah Hill standing in for Elisabeth Shue (a concept already funnier than a lot of comedies) and the humor given an Apatow-age tune-up by fledgling screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka. Hill plays Noah, a twentysomething slacker on hiatus from college and crashing with his single mother (Jessica Hecht) in the New York suburbs.
Noah reluctantly agrees to look after the kids of a family friend so she can go on a much-needed double date, and, from the moment he arrives, it’s clear he’s in over his head. Blithe (Landry Bender) is a 9-year-old whose role models appear to be limited to the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. When introduced, she tells Hill, “Noah is a hot name.” He explains that it’s actually biblical, to which she responds, “The Bible is a hot book.” Not long afterward, she asks him for a Red Bull and vodka. Did I mention she wears more makeup than Gene Simmons?
Blithe’s older brother, Slater, is played by Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are (which would have made a pretty apt title for this film if it hadn’t been taken). He’s 13 and wears a fanny pack filled with pharmaceuticals. Slater believes he suffers from severe anxiety, but, as Noah will help him understand in the course of their night together, he’s simply gay.
Far less easy to explain is Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), whom the family recently adopted from El Salvador. His fondness for explosives, indiscriminate property destruction and public urination make for more than a few awkward moments when Noah finds he has no choice but to load the gang in the family minivan and make a run into the city.
What else is a young man to do when his manipulative, two-timing girlfriend (Ari Graynor) phones to say she’ll have sex with him if he’ll pop by her homicidal maniac of a dealer’s place and pick up a little coke for her? That’s all it takes to set in motion an unhinged chain of events in which lessons are learned and the lives of all are endangered — but, most importantly, laughs are nonstop.
Movie-critic law prohibits me from expanding on the frequently surreal details of their odyssey. Suffice it to say that accusations of pedophilia, exploding toilets, homosexual bodybuilders working out to “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” and Sammy Davis Jr. impersonators play prominent roles. So does Sam Rockwell, who turns in the daffiest performance of his career as the dope peddler — and that’s saying something. The delights of this deranged romp lie in the twisted details, and Rockwell’s character has enough to justify a sequel. When, for example, was the last time you happened on a crime lord who friended his new customers on Facebook?
As always, Hill is fabulous. He’s got it all — timing, a gift for physical comedy and the chops to elevate any script with improvisation. Moneyball may be the movie that finally nabs him a nomination, but it’s The Sitter that lets him knock one out of the comedy park.
* Running time: 81 min.
* Rated: R