After The Sitter and Your Highness, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only projects David Gordon Green finds worth his time are stoned in-jokes spitballed between he and his friends in his smoke-filled basement, over a soundtrack of early-90s hip-hop. This is a director who has previously displayed immense talent but, perhaps egged on by the commercial and critical success of Pineapple Express, which is still quite good despite representing the nadir of the buddy stoner flick, he keeps going back to the well despite ever-diminishing returns. The Sitter, which is a 90-minute assemblage of uncomfortably bad jokes, bad characters, and bad set pieces, is a bad movie, and it’s badness is on another level than even that of Your Highness. Sitting through that movie, you wonder how its stars and its director convinced a studio to finance the shoot. Sitting through this one, you wonder why they bothered.
For Jonah Hill, this represents a precipitous drop-off from Moneyball, a drop-off that even rivals the one James Franco took between 128 Days and, well, Your Highness. In The Sitter, he plays Noah, a sex-obsessed chubster who doesn’t get much action. He’s got no job, no goals, and no car. His dad left he and his mom high-and-dry for the babysitter years ago and owes something like ten years of alimony. His “girlfriend,” if you can call her that, invites him over so he can go down on her, then pushes him out the door so he can go to a party. If you’re thinking to yourself that it’s not possible for Noah to navigate three insane children through a minefield of drugs, overlords, exploding toilets, jewel heists, racial stereotyping, stolen cars, and cheating parents while teaching them (and himself) valuable lessons about the importance of being/respecting yourself, then you’re not giving The Sitter enough credit for trying harder than most movies do to heap sugar into an otherwise vile concoction.
Does it work? Not even close. The Sitter isn’t aided any by the kids Noah is forced to babysit. There’s Slater (Max Records), a headcase who carries with him a fanny-pack full of pills and a promise that, if given any responsibility, he’ll snap; Blithe (Landry Bender), who is obsessed with celebrity and “hot gossip” and smearing make-up on her face; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an adoptee who dabbles in explosions, the needless destruction of property, and “running away,” which is so literal a threat that he has a GPS tracker sewn into his jacket. Why these kids are this way is never really The Sitter‘s concern, but Noah, while stealing money from a bat mitzvah or crashing the minivan because Blithe farted, has the time to make crucial, insightful observations into their young lives. The speech Noah gives Slater is as close as The Sitter comes to genuine sentiment, but for two issues: 1. Slater’s outburst is practically lifted from Little Miss Sunshine, and 2. Noah’s message that it’s OK to be gay comes with the promise that Slater will, after enduring a torturous high school career, land a sweet gig in the entertainment industry, where he’ll be organized and smell nice.
The other scenes like the one between Noah and Slater work similarly, and are clearly meant to cut the film’s otherwise bitter, jaded aesthetic. They just don’t work, though, as Hill is pretty much talking to two of the worst child characters yet conceived. Blithe’s crime is that she’s a subplot delivery device in a movie that barely has a main plot to begin with, her “hot gossip” being that her dad is sleeping around with some guy. She wears a lot of badly-applied make-up and talks about celebrities so Noah can tell her that celebrities and women who wear make-up are whores, thereby realizing that his “girlfriend,” who used to date a cagefighter, is just that. Rodrigo is plopped into the script to speak Spanish, because it’s funny when the white guy doesn’t understand another language and makes threatening suggestions in response. He blows things up and steals things and acts mischievous, and it’s not clear if that’s because he’s a kid or because he, like the black dudes at the pool hall or the gay dudes lifting weights, is a caricature, a modern-day Frito Bandito who only wants to be loved.
Eventually, Hill builds an impressive rap sheet and forms a bond with the kids, not that any of it matters. This is the kind of movie where an eccentric drug dealer (Sam Rockwell) employs a gang of homoerotic bodybuilders because it’s meant to look funny, where the white hero wins over a gang of clichéd street thugs by getting punched out and bumbling through cribbed street lingo, and where a potential love interest hears the hero admit that his girlfriend really isn’t his girlfriend, only to indignantly ask “So you have a girlfriend?” a minute later. The street thugs exist to save Noah’s ass, the bodybuilders because a gay villain can’t be a gay villain without gay henchmen, and the love interest so Noah has somebody to move on to after he’s been properly beaten up and abused for his karmaic sins. So much of this movie happens separate from the narrative because someone thought it’d be funny. One of those things: an in-joke cameo of James Franco, doing his thing on an episode of General Hospital. He looks happy. He should be: he’s not in The Sitter.
The Sitter. Directed by David Gordon Green. With Jonah Hill (Noah), Max Records (Slater), Landry Bender (Blithe), Kevin Hernandez (Rodrigo), and Sam Rockwell (Karl). Released December 9, 2011, by 20th Century Fox.