This is it, folks: David Gordon Green isn’t the guy that made George Washington and All the Real Girls anymore. Now, he’s the guy that made Pineapple Express and Your Highness. Which is a transition that doesn’t really deserve an award or a hearty handshake or even much praise really. But for the sake of needlessly giving credit where credit is due, I have to say: this new David Gordon Green is ok.
No, seriously. I may have joked in the past that, after hearing that Green wanted to remake Dario Argento’s Suspiria, perhaps doing a shot-for-shot remake of Super Mario Bros.: The Movie would be more his speed. And I definitely don’t think his comedies are worth starting a #teamstonergreen movement for or anything. But Green’s slacker comedies have been incrementally getting better. And they’re mostly funny.
So…yeah, I am working myself up to recommending The Sitter. Because it’s often very funny, thanks in no small part to star Jonah Hill. And until Green and his screenwriters start to take seriously the clichés they had been theretofore only conforming to with their tongues lazily lolling in their collective cheek, it’s pretty amiably ditzy. The film’s charms don’t really wear off until it has to become a narrative about something. Still, The Sitter’s about 2/3rds on-target, which is unfortunately more than can be said about most studio-produced contemporary comedies.
In The Sitter, an exceptionally disheveled Hill plays Noah Griffith, a push-over and a slacker that has to baby-sit three troublesome tykes so that his single mother can go out on a date. One kid, Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), is Hispanic, has to go the bathroom constantly and enjoys blowing toilets up. Another kid, Blithe (Landry Bender), wants to grow up to be a “celebutante” and hence wears too much make-up and acts like she knows what’s hot and what’s not. The third kid, Slater (Max Records), is the least annoying kid as he’s just got anxiety issues…oh, and apparently he’s a repressed homosexual, which is news even to him. None of these kids are interesting. You did not come to see The Sitter to watch these kids. Because these kids are only worthwhile as straight men to Jonah Hill’s fat man in a little plaid coat.
Because, let’s face it, the plot of The Sitter is exhausting and not always comically so. Even screenwriter Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka eventually throw up their hands and accept that they have to get semi-serious about their lazy, potty-mouthed pastiche after a point, which puts a serious damper on Green’s genital-fixated style of humor (I’d say the point where the film stops being generously funny is probably the point where Noah tells Slater that he’s gay...).
So Noah takes these kids out on a wild journey to buy cocaine from Sam Rockwell, who plays a cocaine dealer named Karl that’s basically like Alfred Molina’s character in Boogie Nights but with a muscleman fetish and not as funny. But that goes to hell because Rodrigo winds up stealing one of Karl’s smack-filled dinosaur eggs (Karl also has a dinosaur and Faberge egg fetish). Then Noah meets Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury), an attractive but nerdy black girl that he can relate to and hence eventually winds up dating. Oh and Noah’s got daddy issues. Blah blah blah, balls on fire, blah blah blah, Method Man cameo, blah blah, double-fisted punch to the balls, blah.
But hey, how ‘bout that Jonah Hill? While his serious dramatic performance in Moneyball is impressive, I think he delivers an equally superlative turn in The Sitter. Hill exudes schlubbiness, which is almost enough to make his character seem fully-developed (note: his character is not even halfway well-developed). Noah is a sassy, slovenly loser, which is perfect for Hill, since he looked like Gene Wilder ate Zero Mostel when he shot The Sitter.
Noah is such a waste of space that we’re introduced to while he’s going down on his aloof girlfriend Marisa (Ari Graynor). Marisa doesn’t reciprocate, leaving Noah to peddle dejectedly back home to his mom’s place on his two-speed bike. This isn’t for want of trying: he guilelessly tries to steer her towards his crotch, winking and nudging her all the while. But she feigns stomach problems and that’s the end of that. This is material tailor-
made for Hill, though if Moneyball is any indication, he’s now trying to put that period in his career behind him. It’s similarly too bad that, true to generic form, Noah has to grow up a little by film’s end—he was just hitting his stride.
But let’s not talk about that. Like Hill, Green is in a period of creative stasis. He’s doing what he’s most comfortable right now and that’s only commendable because he’s doing it with a comic performer as talented as Hill, someone that can really turn it on if given half the chance. And The Sitter is roughly half of a chance, give or take a tenth of a chance. It’s sporadically very funny, then it’s mostly just a stupid kiddy pic. But hey, I laughed.
Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in the Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, The Extended Cut.