2011 was a bit of a weird year for young actor-comedians. James Franco starred in Oscar-nominated 127 Hours and blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Seth Rogan shocked everyone by starring in a cancer comedy that wasn’t just exploitative, and Jonah Hill turned his hand, not entirely unsuccessfully to more serious acting in baseball drama Moneyball. After taking a risk on Moneyball though, The Sitter looks to sit Hill firmly back in his comfort zone. While on suspension Noah Griffith (Hill) is coaxed into babysitting a neighbours kids so his mum can go on a hot date, hence becoming the titular Sitter of the title and making the phrase “hijinks ensue” both predictable and as redundant as a Russell Brand marriage councillor.
In it’s defence, this is a film that never claims to be anything besides simplistic, but besides that it does seem unsure of what exactly it wants to be. The attempts at comedy often seem uncomfortable with the children alongside for the ride; while under other circumstances it’d feel fine to laugh at Noah’s misfortune, now the fates of three largely innocent children are also tied in. Speaking of the children, they feel like they’re there mainly to add a sense of dramatic gravitas – a stereotypical spoilt girl, Blithe (Landry Bender) and two boys; one the generic adopted troublemaker Ricardo (Kevin Hernandez), the other an effeminate guy, Slater (Max Records) dealing with being gay. Shockingly, this is one of the few times the film actually seems entertaining, dealing with it with tact, without becoming overly sentimental or cloying.
However, watching this you can’t get the feeling you’ve seen it all before. Hill’s character is supposedly a nice guy deep down, and we’re supposed to root for him to get treated better than his current on-again, off again girlfriend Marissa (Ari Graynor) treats him, but they seem almost like mirror images. Both seem self absorbed, lazy and just using the other to get something, but because he looks like an underdog and says a few words of wisdom to the children, we’re supposed to root for Noah and boo Marissa. While Hill clearly has “the likeability factor”, this film stretches it until it snaps, with nearly everyone he meets seeming to view him as a lovable but misunderstood misanthrope despite the fact he’s actually neither lovable or all that misunderstood.
The clichés keep coming after this, as there’s even a typical impossibly attractive nerdy girl who was into him all along, Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury), and yet somehow this comes across as the most believable part of the movie. Not that believability was the way it should have gone necessarily, as Sam Rockwell as drug dealer Karl pays no attention to anything that’s come before and plays his own brand of crazed villain, not dissimilar from his role in Iron Man 2. Like Iron Man 2 however, you can’t help put feel that Rockwell’s potential gets a little wasted here, even if it was him who got most of the laughs out of me.
All in all, while The Sitter provided a few laughs, the characters are largely recycled or unsympathetic and there’s nothing much here that you won’t have already seen. This brand of crass comedy has been done before, and much better.