Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Sitter Review

Earlier this year, Jonah Hill (“Super Bad,” “Get Him to the Greek”) gave perhaps his finest performance to date, in Bennett Miller’s superb “Money Ball,” a performance that was definitely was more toned down and mature compared to the character he played in “Super Bad.”

In his latest film “The Sitter,” the second film this year by “The Pineapple Express” auteur David Gordon Greene (the first being the awful medieval comedy “Your Highness”), you could look at Hill’s performance as a step down from “Money Ball.” He’s back to playing the same arrogant, smart alec, loser character he’s become so prone to playing, except this time it involves children, which automatically means three things will happen: 1) There will be poo jokes 2) There will be pee jokes, and 3) Hill will be accused of being a child molester.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hill is brilliant at playing that kind of character and he’s the best part of “The Sitter,” a movie that’s a hybrid of  “Super Bad,” “The Pineapple Express” and all of those movies about a person who should never be around kids, but for some reason is around kids.

He plays Noah, a college student who has recently been suspended and is now living at home with his single mom.  After the opportunity comes up for his mom to meet a potential long-term lover, Noah gets roped into watching the three kids of her friend Mrs. Pedulla (Erin Daniels).

The three kids are the default comedy movie kids for the most part. There’s the awkward studious oldest son Slater (Max Records), who we find out is secretly gay. The sassy drama Queen daughter Blithe (Landry Bender) who wants to be a celebrity and finally the weird, misunderstood, newly adopted Hispanic kid Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) who likes to cause mischief. As far as child actors go, Cody Smit-Mcphee, Dakota Fanning and Haley Steinfield these kids are not but that’s a high bar to reach. All three do what’s expected of them. Bender is probably the best, just because it’s easy to play an energetic, bossy little girl. Records is a little too over dramatic and inexperienced to play a closeted gay teenager and Hernandez is pretty much one joke.

As Noah sits on the Pedulla’s couch contemplating what he’s doing there he gets an opportunity to score with his girlfriend Marisa (Ari Graynor). So, he packs up the three kids in their red mini van and the adventure begins. Along the way he has to pick up some cocaine for Marisa, from her crazy ex-boyfriend drug dealer Karl (an eccentric Sam Rockwell), who will show up later in the movie because as we all know when insane drug dealers show up in comedies they will be in the main story. Plus, it gives Gordon Greene an excuse to have a car chase/gun chase in the climax.  This in turn leads Noah and the kids through a number of other comedic situations, some inspired (Noah going to bar and getting beat up) and some not so much (they get pulled over by some unkind policeman).

The movie is short (astonishingly short at 81 minutes) but when it comes to comedies, sometimes the shorter the better. It stays on track for the most part and reaches its goal.  And for being a raunchy comedy (I don’t think Hill would have done it if it wasn’t) it’s not too crass, especially considering there are young children. Noah is mean but not too mean and thankfully none of the kids get high on cocaine.

Believe it or not Gordon Greene and screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka actually put emotional stuff in the movie. Noah has a life lesson talk with Slader about how it’s OK to be gay, and with Blithe about how you don’t need to wear makeup and be a celebrity to be popular. Unfortunately, since the movie is only 81 minutes these aren’t as affectionate as they could be. There’s also a side plot involving a girl Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury) who Noah went to college with that seems tacked on and another involving Noah’s estranged father that doesn’t go anywhere but I give Gordon Greene credit for at least trying.

So, while this is the Jonah Hill we’re used to seeing he’s still nevertheless entertaining, nailing all the funny dialogue the script has to offer in this all around decent comedy.

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