David Gordon Green used to make movies. I’m not sure if the stuff the Richardson native is turning out these days could be called that. First there was Your Highness, now The Sitter, an on screen mess with no style and no substance. It suffers from a hackneyed plot and clumsy exposition. Some sequences are incomprehensively cut together, others feel like they were patched up in the editing room. Sometimes the plot is moved along with afterthought overdubbing, sometimes it is left to stumble along with blatant disregard for coherence. It’s jokes pander, often unsuccessfully, and the gags that work in The Sitter – like brief on screen moments of Sam Rockwell as the farcical drug dealer Karl – feel like ideas lifted from other movies, like, say, Zoolander. As far as I can tell, Green had one idea in The Sitter that is executed with any sort of care, the backdrop to Karl’s drug loft which is populated with dozens of ridiculous homosexual bodybuilders. The rest of The Sitter reeks of what could only be described as lazy filmmaking.
You have to wonder if Green is satisfied pick up any stoner movie project that comes across his desk. Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka’s script for The Sitter reads like a straight-to-video Disney movie with the snark and bawd turned up a few notches. In it, a decidedly pre-diet Jonah Hill plays Noah Griffith cast in the mold of The Sitter’s intended audience: a post-graduate, nondescript everyman proud of his malaise and pop culture-savvy sense of humor. Noah was going to spend the night at home while his divorced mother goes out with a friend to meet guys, but then his mother tells him her friend’s sitter is ill and she’ll have to cancel her evening. After a little prodding, Noah agrees to fill in and suddenly he is in the living room of the Pedulla family. Each kid Noah must care for represents a comedic idea that is intended to offer some satiric social sting. Slater (Max Records) is an anxious overachiever drugged up on pills from his child psychiatrist. Julio (J.B. Smoove) is an adopted child fromEl Salvador who carries himself like a Jet-hating Shark and breaks bottles and flower pots to get under Noah’s skin. Blithe (Landry Bender) is a precocious little girl with an imagination over-stuffed with celebrity idolization and salacious pop tunes, over sexualizing the pre-pre-teen and turning her into a nasty brat.
Noah is instructed to get the kids to bed early (yawn), and don’t drive the family’s car (yawn), and keep an eye on Julio who tends to run away (what?). The instructions serve as an inverse plot diagram. Noah receives a call from his lady friend Marisa (Ari Graynor), who uses Noah for sexual and social favors, and she promises Noah sex if he will score her coke and meet her at a party. Ah, yes. Now we’re in a David Gordon Green film. Off they go on a night of wacky hijinks that lead towards heartwarming self-revelations for the young adult and children alike.
Ah, yes. Of course the drug deal goes wrong. Of course the car gets jacked up. Of course Noah is caught running aroundNew York Citytrying to come with $7,000 to save his life, while the kids all find their way into the situations for which the writers conceived them: dodgy clubs, gang fights, and homosexual heavens. Slater, you see, just needs to admit he is gay. Julio is a good, if lonely kid acting out through violent racial clichés. And Blithe needs to learn how to respect herself. Isn’t that sweet? Noah also has some neatly tied personality flaws to work through too, learning that he is cool enough not to be Marisa’s booty call and he can get over his jerk father who left him for the babysitter (you how they did that, another babysitter broker up “The Sitter’s” family).
What gets the most laughs in Green’s film is the way Jonah Hill skillful navigates through jive-tinged dialogue intended to cast his character as the fat suburban white kid who can hang tough with the Brooklynbrothers. It plays like the stoned dream of a suburban white kid reared on the hip hop classics that populate The Sitter’s soundtrack. Great, but is it funny? At times, but whatever coherence the gag could have created is stifled by The Sitter’s situational bouncing, from Bat Mitzvahs to billiard halls to diamond heists to park fights. In between there are montage blurs of New York and Brooklyn. Are these sequences supposed to make us think of the big world that is forming these kids, set the antics in the noisy concrete jungle that is ruining their night, or just transition between otherwise unrelated scenes? Or, perhaps they are there to satisfy every filmmaker’s bucket list item of shooting New York at night. Most likely they are necessary to stuff minutes into The Sitter’s already brief 81 minutes once the filmmakers realized they barely had a feature film on their hands.
Despite all this moving about, The Sitter is devoid of any effective comedic or dramatic timing. As a result, we’re never roped into its jokes or it characters, and when the last half hour of the film starts spouting off feel good nonsense about self discovery, we wonder when we were supposed to actually start caring about these characters as people and not comedic excuses. I’m not sure if we’re ever supposed to. After all, there’s no indication that Green does.