There’s a breezy charm to Jonah Hill. His nervousness is not on the level of Michael Cera, nor is he as biting a social observer as Seth Rogen. He just eases into the world, fires off some quips, and seems perfectly happy to stay where he is—good enough is good enough, and that’s just fine. Though that’s the roles he plays, I can’t speak much for the guy himself.
Nevertheless, The Sitter recognizes that and enjoys putting him in every situation possible to make him squirm. Jonah plays Noah (both biblical names, and both would be appropriate to describe the character), a 20-something jobless slacker with priors living at home with his single mother. If that weren’t enough, his something of a girlfriend Marisa (Ari Gaynor) refuses to, uh, toss him a lifejacket when he goes swimming below the equator (that’s so vague I’m not sure I even get it). And he’s dad’s a crook who ran away with Noah’s sitter, fathered another child, and runs a successful diamond business while neglecting to pay alimony. Damn.
Through a series of events (what the hell—his mom has a double date, the other couple’s sitter cancels, and Noah’s guilted into filling the role), Noah ends up as sitting for some friends three children, whose personalities range from closeted homosexual (not really a spoiler, since it’s announced in the kid’s first scene), trash-diva-in-training, and Danny Trejo’s illegitimate child—Slater (Where the Wild Things Are‘s Max Records), Blithe (Landry Bender), and the adopted Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), respectively.
Noah receives a call from Marisa, asking him to pick her up a “ticket” (is that what you kids call it now?) of blow, and he’s off with his wards in the family minivan to retrieve it from flagrantly homosexual drug dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell). A series of mixups occurs, and Noah soon finds himself in debt for $10,000 to Karl, his minivan stolen, and his police sketch plastered all over town due to an exploded toilet, courtesy of Rodrigo, and some confusion regarding the nature of his relationship with Blithe.
That’s an underwhelming synopsis, but I’m trying not to reveal too much. Much of the humor comes from the escalating dilemmas, which, yeah, are contrived, but that’s the idea. The Sitter is just the right it for director David Gordon Green, whose Your Highness took quite a critical bashing (which wasn’t really deserved) earlier this year and whose Pineapple Express has started to receive some of the praise it did deserve. The Sitter is not as ambitious is either and aims squarely for the kind of Love-‘Em-Or-Are-Indifferent-About-‘Em comedies of the ’80s and early ’90s (Ski School, PCU, Bachelor Party).
On that level, I enjoyed it and laughed fairly often. Hill’s funny, the goofy and eccentric supporting characters are funny, the kids are funny (at times, and it doesn’t dwell too much on “Oh they’re kids and they’re saying things they shouldn’t” “humor”), and it has just the right running time at 81 minutes. But on another level, I hope it’s not the direction Green plans to take with his work. He’s a damn good director making a merely good film. Granted there are some great visuals—the descent into Karl’s underground drug lair is amazingly shot and simultaneously hilarious and terrifying: The camera tracks Noah as he wanders through a run-down gym filled with silent He-Men to a construction area where they pound the walls with massive hammers to Karl’s lush inner sanctum. The color moves from grimy brown to dirty white to splendid blue, and yet the mood becomes more disconcerting the cleaner it gets. And the police sketch of Noah is a throwaway gag, but it’s not overused and is funny the more you see it.
The only thing I felt misplaced was the film’s bizarre stereotypical undertone. Noah’s stereotypically Jewish; Karl and Slater are stereotypically gay, the wonderful JB Smoove (among others) are stereotypically black, and even the kids’ parents are stereotypically WASPish. Is there a point to this? It’s not mere ignorance, rather it seems intentional, but, again, for what reason? Noah finds ways to get along with everyone, and his romantic interest is black, so is it some sort of anthem for or celebration of the modern-day slacker?
That’s been a common theme to many of Green’s films, but it’s never brought to the forefront or really explored. Yes, Noah has some freakouts and heart-to-hearts, and while his mother, his father, and the kids’ father chastise him for being a slacker, it’s more in the offhandedly jokey Principal “You’re a slacker, McFly” Strickland vein than the moral core of the film. Green’s making a simple comedy here, and it feels like an inside joke to himself instead of a message to his audience. Still, maybe there is something more going on, and I’ll need to see it again, but for now, I just had a pretty fun time.