The calibration is a bit off in The Sitter David Gordon Green’s comedy about a young slacker (Jonah Hill) tasked with minding three unruly children over the course of one insane evening. Green aims to evoke Uncle Buck and Adventures in Babysitting – feel-good ‘80s family comedies from which the film freely borrows – while indulging in the same hard-R irreverence of his previous two films 2008’s Pineapple Express and April’s Your Highness. But the dual impulses prove impossible to reconcile resulting in a comedy that while often quite funny is also wildly uneven. Rarely have I laughed out loud and rolled my eyes so much in the same film.
Hill plays Noah an aimless college dropout who reluctantly agrees to babysit a neighbor’s brood so that his harried single mother might enjoy a rare night on the town. Anticipating an easy evening on the couch he quickly has his hands full with the dysfunctional trio: 13-year-old Slater (Max Records) is a heavily-medicated basket-case; 10-year-old Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) an adopted El Salvadoran immigrant likes to blow things up; and 9-year-old Blithe (Landry Bender) is in the midst of a “celebutante phase ” emulating her sleazy reality-show idols. Things begin to go awry for Noah when in the first of several questionable decisions he opts to take the kids along on a trip to score drugs for his sort-of-girlfriend (Ari Graynor).
As you might have gathered we’ve already ventured far far away from John Hughes-land. And yet Green doesn’t seem to recognize as much. As Hill and co. embark on a series of ever-escalating comic misadventures there’s a strange dissonance that pervades The Sitter which tries to intermingle moments of outrageous vulgarity with scenes of high-grad Hallmark sap. The latter eventually take on a certain comic absurdity of their own: My favorite was a third-act dialogue exchange barely two minutes in length in which Noah newly enlightened by the night’s encounters with a drug dealer (an unhinged scene-stealing Sam Rockwell) car thieves kickboxers steroid-pumped goons and the like manages to wean one of his charges off his psychiatric meds and cure him of his sexual-orientation anxiety in one fell swoop. Is Green a former indie darling bowing to studio dictates with such a patently artificial crock or slyly subverting them? Either way it's a futile endeavor.