Of today’s working directors, is there a bigger genre-swapping sellout than David Gordon Green? After proving his mettle with dramas like George Washington, All the Real Girls, and Undertow, Green must have been growing tired of raves from Roger Ebert not translating into hefty box office, and when the stoner experiment Pineapple Express soundly broke that cycle, the luster clearly proved too sweet to abandon. That may be an oversimplification, but however much he’s howling on the set, Green surely can’t be finding too much personal fulfillment helming post-Pineapple Express drivel like Your Highness and The Sitter, two utterly worthless comedies that reflect the fatigue of the Apatow-spawned subgenre of rude, random, pop-saturated, pretty-fly-for-a-white-guy romps.
Green’s latest could fool you into thinking it was written, shot, and edited in the same week, so lazy and unrefined are its narrative and construction. Serving as the first solo star vehicle for Jonah Hill (the newly slimmed-down comic, still very full-figured here, is an executive producer), The Sitter is an ugly rendering of an infantile script that constantly exploits stereotypes for cheap guffaws, and employs the hollow trend of hoping ultra-specific, zeitgeisty lingo will distract from inert, derivative storytelling.
Written by first-timers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, the film aims to be the worst-behaved bad-kiddie-behavior adventure ever, a movie that never would have been greenlit when titles like Adventures in Babysitting, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, and Problem Child were in their heyday. It begins with an orgasm, as Noah (Hill) is introduced with his face between the legs of Marisa (Ari Graynor), the ditzy blond druggie who uses him for cunnilingus. On hiatus from college and living with his divorced mom in a “stage of stasis,” rudderless Noah does little good for himself, and he’s primed and ready for the easy morals and insta-backbone this movie is sure to provide. When Mom (Jessica Hecht) reports that the other half of her double date needs a sitter or else it’s no night out, Noah reluctantly takes the gig, his mama’s-boy act of devotion the film’s only truly honest virtue.
Born to big-boobed MILF Mrs. Pedulla (Erin Daniels), Noah’s pint-sized pals for the evening include Slater (Where the Wild Things Are‘s Max Records), a gymnastics-watching introvert whose anxiety is actually just homosexuality; Blithe (Landry Bender), a pink-swathed tween in a “celebutant” phase whose every life lesson she learned on E!; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an adopted orphan from El Salvador whose depiction as both dangerous criminal and family dog—complete with microchip-like tracking device—is more than a little offensive. Every character in The Sitter, big and small, is a shrill caricature, from Slater’s spoiled Jewish classmate to the panicky valet who’s working her bat mitzvah, one of many pit stops Noah and the kids hit after Marisa sends them all on a goose chase for cocaine (she promises Noah sex if he’ll be her drug delivery boy).
Pieces of this superficial approach yield mild, bizarro interest (like ambiguously gay drug dealer Sam Rockwell’s bodybuilding entourage, on loan from Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” video), but most insult and confound despite their flashes of boxed-in humor, like a whole gang of “magical negroes” whose soulful superiority offers the usual contrast against Noah’s awkward pastiness, but who basically exist to save his ass in the climax and utter the line, “You done messed with the wrong babysitter.” In its most egregious example of useless, barefaced track-covering, the film attempts to counteract its coy racism by setting Noah up with a beautiful black college friend (Kylie Bunbury), whose unlikely attraction is less a sweet, go-for-the-nice-guy gesture than a reflection of the chauvinistic arrogance that’s been rampant in fat-boy comedies since John Candy wooed bikini babes in Summer Rental.
To his credit, Hill does very little to tarnish his ever-sharpening image. Despite the lousiness of the material, he continues to show some promising chops under all that endless sarcasm, bringing near-impossible sincerity to deeply contrived scenarios like Slater’s coming-out talk, and doing his best to suffer through the mush of Noah’s clichéd daddy issues. He fares far better than Green, whose couldn’t-care-less direction, which allows for way too many hideous hip-hop-in-the-city montages, suggests the ganja left over from his last two films was in great abundance throughout production. His heavy hand is as good a meaning as any to assign to the unintelligible metaphor of a geomagnetic storm, which gets frequent mention from start to finish and, all told, hovers over the film like a green fog of toxic waste.