Let's get all of the givens out the way: Yes, The Sitter should be funnier than it is. Yes, it's sloppy and tossed-off and kind of lazy. And yes, director David Gordon Green's move from art-house darling to stoner comedy auteur is just plain weird. All of these things are true. But none of them mean that The Sitter is some sort of act of evil, as the majority of its reviews have contended; if it's a broad comedy that primarily functions as a cheap rental or pay-cable time-waster, it would be hard to mount much of a case that those are loftier goals than the star and filmmakers intended. This is a film created in the somewhat less than artsy mold of the '80s comedy, and its primary objective was apparently to remake Adventures in Babysitting with more f-words. Sure, everyone should aim high, but was greatness ever really in the cards for this one?
First and foremost, it is a Jonah Hill picture--a vehicle for a comedic personality, just as The Bellboy or The Man on the Flying Trapeze or Ace Ventura: Pet Detective were, hand-crafted for his specific persona (Hill is credited as an executive producer). He plays Noah Griffith, a young man whose life is going to waste: kicked out of college, living at home, and deluding himself about his less than reciprocal relationship with dream girl Marisa (Ari Graynor). As a favor to his mom--and for a bit of much-needed cash--he agrees to babysit for family friends, who leave him in charge of medicated Slater (Max Records, from Where the Wild Things Are), celeb-obsessed Blithe (Landry Bender), and adopted sociopath Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez). He's planning to spend the evening jockeying their remote control, but when Marisa calls offering sex if he'll pick up some coke for her--erm, for her friend--Noah puts his charges in the minivan for a quick run into Manhattan. No prizes for guessing that it doesn't go smoothly.
It's too easy to note that the progression of events is woefully predictable--Green and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka are loading up the expected clichés and homages (for a while, it seemed like every damn '80s comedy had an unnecessary drug subplot--even Three Men and a Baby had one, for God's sake--and the pool hall scene is clearly riffing on the blues club bit in Babysitting). Covering familiar ground is no crime; the trouble is, more often than not, the filmmakers don't manage to put an original comic spin on the familiar. The energy is right, and the cast is terrific; Sam Rockwell and JB Smoove are well-chosen villains, while Jessica Hecht, Bruce Altman, and Method Man turn up in small roles (as does a wasted Nicky Katt). But too many scenes miss the mark, and many of the jokes are either too easy or just plain MIA.
But the execution occasionally transcends the weaknesses of the script. Much of that is due to Hill's exquisite comic timing, the way he'll throw away a reaction line, or the long beat he takes after Rockwell's egg explodes in the mini-van. And his odd sincerity is just right for an unexpected coming-out scene with another character, which is clumsy but heartfelt, and kind of remarkable for a modern studio comedy (Hill's "There's nothing wrong with you; you're normal, just super-gay" is a long way from the vile "faggots" of Project X). The supporting players get their moments as well--Graynor's feisty party girl is fun to watch, and Rockwell and Smoove have good chemistry, particularly when they do their spontaneous Kid 'N Play moves.
The Sitter's "totally irresponsible edition" is a two-disc set. The Blu-ray disc includes the feature film and extras; the film is available in its original theatrical version (running 81 minutes) and an unrated version (running six minutes longer). The second disc includes a DVD presentation of the film (theatrical version) and a digital copy (unrated version).
Video & Audio:
Director Green hasn't really bothered to bring the painterly eye of his early indie films to his mainstream comedies, and The Sitter has a workable if somewhat generic look. The MPEG-4 AVC captures it well; it's a clean, bright image, with impressive clarity and vivid saturation, though the black levels are occasionally messy.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is mostly of interest for its impressive low end, which handles the many bass-heavy hip-hop cues with ease (one in particular, which the kids are enjoying in the car while Hill is meeting Rockwell, gave my subwoofer a real workout). Dialogue reproduction is strong and effects are nicely separated and modulated.
English 5.1 descriptive audio and Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are also included, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The Sitter may not be a product of the Apatow factory, but it apes that producer/director's love of hefty bonus features. First up is a selection of ten Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes (25:54); few of them are missed, but there are good lines here and there (Noah, to makeup-smeared Blithe: "What are you, a mob wife?"). The Gag Reel (2:37) offers a few additional laughs, while Sits-N-Giggles (3:09) offers some funny alternate improvisations, a la the "Line-O-Rama" feature on the Apatow discs. "For Your Consideration" (1:01) is a goofy clip of Green directing young Ladry Bender, while "Jonah the Producer" (4:59) is an enjoyable, tongue-in-cheek look at Hill's hands-on work as executive producer--with both the kids and their parents. "The Making of The Sitter" (15:23) is a modestly entertaining behind-the-scenes featurette, mostly eschewing the EPK style and relying on funny on-set footage.
The original Theatrical Trailer (2:11) is also included, and the disc is BD-Live enabled, though no additional extras specific to The Sitter are currently available.
Don't get me wrong: The Sitter is not a great comedy, not by a long shot. But it has some fun, offers a few laughs, and doesn't overstay its welcome. Frankly, that's more rare than you'd think in modern studio comedies.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.