REVIEW: Jonah Hill, The Sitter Offer (Mostly) Inoffensive, Forgettable Fun
Having begun his career as American independent film's great hope with delicate, languid features like George Washington and All the Real Girls, David Gordon Green has devoted the last few years to turning out goofball stoner comedies that, aside from their hip and very current casts, could seem like forgotten oddball '80s artifacts discovered in a box of dusty VHS tapes at a garage sale. While it's not a career trajectory anyone who went googly-eyed over his early output would have guessed for him, there's an unmistakable undercurrent of glee to these recent films that suggests Green -- who still works with many of the crew members with which he started, including composer David Wingo and DP Tim Orr -- is having a great time making exactly the type of movies he wants to.
How enjoyable they are to actually watch is a knottier question. Pineapple Express was hazy, sloppy fun, but Your Highness felt like one long inside joke no one deigned to explain. The Sitter pulls back from the latter's sometimes jarring abrasiveness and aims to sprinkle sweetness and reconciliation between the laughs -- without, this time, putting them in air quotes. It succeeds at tickling the funny bone and warming the heart, though it's not terribly good at either -- The Sitter's a lazy ramble of a movie that's amusing enough to hold your gaze for 81 minutes while leaving you feeling a little cheated when it's over.
Jonah Hill's slimmed down considerably in the months since shooting this movie, but as genial waster Noah Griffith he still looks like a child's drawing of a person -- a small circle on top of a large circle from which legs and arms directly extend. Noah's living at home in the suburbs of New York with his single mom (Jessica Hecht), having been kicked out of college for reasons left fuzzy. Whatever his misbehaviors, there's never a doubt that he's a fundamentally good kid who's run temporarily aground, and that sense of underlying softness dulls the edge of The Sitter's attempt comedy. Noah may not be the greatest choice to take care of children and may make some seriously dumb decisions, but he's of course going to fix his own mess, even when that own mess involves an angry but hug-happy drug dealer named Karl (Sam Rockwell) and $10,000 in cocaine.
Noah's pursuing a doomed entanglement with neighborhood girl Marisa (Ari Graynor), who keeps him around for physical favors (which she refuses to return) while still being fixated on her ex-boyfriend. It's her suggestion he pick up some drugs and join her at a party in Brooklyn that starts the night on its course toward disaster, since Noah's already been roped into babysitting the three children of family friends so that his mom can accompany the parents to a swank party where's she going to be introduced to a romantic prospect.
he kids are cartoons, but amusingly contemporary ones: Little Blithe (Landry Bender) lacquers herself with makeup and talks like a pre-pubescent Paris Hilton nightmare. Explosives-happy adopted Hispanic sibling Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) acts like he's a refugee from a drug cartel, though his inexplicable costume of choice involves yellow pajamas and cowboy boots. And 13-year-old Slater is a jumble of anxiety and angst, carrying his meds around in a fanny pack. Played by Where the Wild Things Are's Max Records, Slater's not at all funny, but does provide some heartfelt emotional distress that's poignant and probably better suited to some other movie.
So The Sitter's nightlong obstacle course is set -- wrangle children, buy coke, get money together to placate the dealer when things go wrong, and finish in time to join Marisa at a party and finally consummate that pseudo-relationship. These goals take the four on a journey through lower Manhattan and actual Brooklyn neighborhoods, including South Slope, Greenpoint and Bushwick -- the film's sense of New York, and of being a suburban kid who may head there to play but has to eventually leave and head home at the end of the night, is one of its best qualities. Its worst is its weird treatment of race, which beyond Rodrigo's ridiculousness includes Noah's triumphant winning over of a group of black friends by letting himself get punched in the face -- "I feel so cool right now," he declares. Perhaps attesting to that white-kid inferiority complex is the soundtrack -- Noah Griffith's infinite playlist involves songs by 2 Live Crew, Slick Rick, The Sugarhill Gang and Biz Markie, perfect for a Long Island kid who prefers his hip hop comfortably old-school.
Childhood resentments are aired, revelations are had, and age is come of by the end of The Sitter, with an oddly anticlimactic conclusion that never ties into the geomagnetic storm set to happen that night that the characters have spent a fair amount of time talking about. All the ends are easily tied away, and seemingly major disruptions are forgotten as soon as it's time for bed -- which is about as quickly, one guesses, as this movie will fade from mind.
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