Movie Reviews: 'The Sitter' and 'Shame'
A tale of two films not fit for the kids.
Here's a truly odious and repugnant comedy, a semi-remake of Adventures in Babysitting that subtracts most of the laughs and replaces them with heavy doses of negligence and sociopathy. The Sitter is perhaps the worst "one crazy night" movie of all time, and almost certainly the worst movie of 2011 that doesn't feature the words "Adam Sandler" above the title.
It's also the first comedy I can remember in which I spent the entire running time rooting for the hero to get arrested.
The film's plot makes the miscalculation that Superbad – in which Jonah Hill's hero spends an entire night going to great lengths to try to get laid – would've been funnier if Hill had ditched Michael Cera and instead dragged three young kids around with him for the whole night.
Hill's unemployed college dropout is stuck, as a favor to his mother, babysitting three kids: Quiet, intellectual Slater (Max Records); irritating, ten-year-old wannabe Kardashian, Blithe (Landry Bender); and adoptee Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), who is, literally, a terrorist. I don't exaggerate; he blows up buildings with cherry bombs multiple times.
Within five minutes of the kids' parents leaving, Hill's nightmarish shrew of a girlfriend (Ari Gaynor) calls and asks him to come to a party and have sex with her – but first, he has to stop and score some coke. So naturally, he takes the kids and does.
And that's where the movie lost me. Leaving three kids alone in a car in a sketchy neighborhood while you run inside to buy drugs from a gun-toting psycho (Sam Rockwell) isn't a silly thing a guy does to get laid. It's evil and monstrous and wrong, and it made me want Hill's character to either go to jail or meet an even more grisly end.
And that's a big part of why the film is a failure – because it fails to understand what "dark comedy" is. The R-rated Sitter goes to some dark places – mostly involving Hill's father – but they feel shoehorned in to give the film unearned gravity, and none of the edgy stuff is especially funny. Meanwhile, most of the attempts at "humor" are just the worst kinds of lowest-common denominator slapstick, on top of super-lazy racial, ethnic and gay jokes.
Then there's a sequence in which Hill talks a young, gay teenager through his coming out process. This scene, well-intentioned as it is, utterly fails for three reasons: Hill gives the least-convincing "It Gets Better" speech of all time, the film had just spent multiple scenes depicting gay men as either mincing queens or violent muscle-heads, and Hill's admonition that this depressed and possibly suicidal kid should go ahead and ditch his prescribed medication is probably the worst advice he could possibly give him.
Meanwhile, the role of black people, according to this film, is to make the hero feel cool and to rescue him through violent means whenever he gets in trouble.
Everyone involved has done much better work, starting with the director, David Gordon Green. He began his career with a couple of top-notch independent films, George Washington and All the Real Girls, but it's been all downhill since. Crap like this is far beneath him. Although considering he also made last spring's much-maligned stoner comedy Your Highness, this may be his new normal.
Hill has been in an all-time classic (Superbad) and some other very good comedies, Gaynor played a funnier, less despicable version of the same character in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and Records was Max in Spike Jonze's great Where the Wild Things Are movie. And let's not even talk about Sam Rockwell and JB Smoove, two talented performers who are wasted here as cardboard villains.
Maybe I'm just speaking as a father here, but I don't find child endangerment especially funny. Nor is the idea of an adult dragging three kids into a party or bar or crack den nearly as funny as the makers of The Sitter think it is. Do not see this movie. Please.
The Silver Screen Rating - The Sitter: 1 star (out of 5)
The year's most intense and disturbing movie is also one of its best, thanks to a dynamite performance from Michael Fassbender and an aesthetic and storytelling approach that are boldly, refreshingly unconventional.
Directed by Steve McQueen – a young Brit who is no relation to the late actor of the same name – Shame tells the story of Brandon (Fassbender) a 30-something New York yuppie who is a raging, insatiable sex addict. He meets his needs through bar pickups, prostitutes, webcams, porn, you name it, and engages in these activities without any joy at all.
Brandon's world changes when his estranged sister (Carey Mulligan) visits him, and it's quickly clear that there is some buried secret that has damaged both of them irreparably.
The astonishing choice the film makes is that it doesn't provide us with any easy explanations. It shows us that these people are horribly screwed up, but doesn't tell us why. What we actually see is much more convincing than any specific explanation would have been.
McQueen gives us a wonderfully photographed version of Manhattan, split between swanky apartments, offices and lounges and seedy sex clubs. It's not easy to find a creative way to film New York, but the director pulls it off.
Fassbender is absolutely sublime, capping off a banner year with a performance that's very much Oscar-worthy. He's great at conveying pain, and with it the complete lack of pleasure.
As for his costar, I'm not generally a fan of Carey Mulligan. She seems to act in only two modes – on the verge of tears, and in tears – and much as I loved Drive, it probably would've been better if Mulligan and Christina Hendricks had swapped roles.
Still, this is the best she's ever been. Playing an extroverted, deeply damaged individual, with bleached blond hair and a Ke$ha-like wardrobe, she's more alive here than I've ever seen her.
There's been much debate about a scene in which Mulligan, on stage, sings a very long and very slow rendition of "New York, New York" as Fassbender stews uncomfortably. I loved it; it reminded me of the "Club Silencio" sequence in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, although it likely was meant to ape Isabella Rosellini in another Lynch film, Blue Velvet.
Shame reminded me a bit of American Psycho, albeit without any of the campiness, and of course substituting compulsive sex for compulsive murder. It's also a much more intense, less-comedic version of Roger Dodger, the little-seen 2002 film with Campbell Scott as a depressed New York ladies man schooling his nephew (a very young Jesse Eisenberg) in the art of seducing the ladies.
In Shame, there's enough sexual material – and it's disturbing enough – to earn it the rare NC-17. There are numerous sex scenes, both male and female full frontal nudity, and even implied incest; there's also a huge pall of discomfort hanging over all of it.
I cannot advise strongly enough: This is not a sexy or romantic movie. I would not advise seeing Shame on a date. If you're a college student looking to "watch a movie" with a potential dating prospect, do not choose this one (and don't choose A Clockwork Orange, either.) And if you're the type of male moviegoer who enjoys movies for the hot chicks who may get naked, this movie probably isn't for you, either.
But beyond that, Shame is admirable for some excellent acting and direction. I'm just not sure I could watch it a second time.
The Silver Screen Rating - Shame: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Roll Credits: The Sitter
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jonah Hill, Ari Gaynor, Max Records, D.B. Sweeney
Length: 1 hours 21 minutes
Roll Credits: Shame
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale
Length: 1 hour 41 minutes