A pre-slimmed down Jonah Hill plays the title role in The Sitter, a needlessly frenzied, pseudo-raunch comedy that whips up a whole lot of R-rated antics only to arrive at crunchy PG-13 lessons in love and tolerance. Hill is Noah, suspended from college and living at home. He reluctantly agrees to babysit a neighbor’s three kids for reasons that would wring a tear from Charles Dickens: The sitter canceled at the last minute, and unless Noah fills in, the kids’ parents won’t be able to go to a party. And if they don’t go out, they can’t introduce Noah’s Mom (Jessica Hecht) to a nice single guy they know. And that would be a pity since Noah’s Mom has been all alone ever since Noah’s S.O.B. dad (Bruce Altman) bailed on the family years ago. Noah really loves his Mom and wants her to be happy, especially since Mom thinks her son is wonderful, even if he won’t move his butt off the couch. Elizabeth Shue’s motivations for taking a similar childcare gig in Adventures in Babysitting 24 years ago — her boyfriend cancels their date — look lame by comparison.
Noah is Jonah Hill-ish, at least as manifest in the talented young actor’s Husky-Boy Period — which is to say he’s sluggish in locomotion, placid in demeanor, and schlubbish in wardrobe. He’s also a pro at deadpan quips and, at heart, a nice guy. (How nice is he? He’s so nice that he patiently, expertly gives the gift of oral sex to the manipulative beeyotch he calls his girlfriend, even when she doesn’t return the favor. Ari Graynor is excellently beeyotchy in the role.) Anyway, Noah’s three young charges are predictable challenges: Slater (Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are) is prim, studious, and anxious; Blithe (Landry Bender) is a little girl wearing the make-up and wardrobe of a Jersey Shore wannabe in pursuit of her burning ambition to be a celebrity; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), adopted from El Salvador, is, in the predictably non-PC portion of the show, a destructive, pint-sized gangster from the Scarface school of Hispanic menace.
Screeching adventures follow, involving but not limited to: guns, car theft, Scary-looking Black People Who Turn Out to Be Nice, cocaine, and a drug den presided over by Sam Rockwell in one more crazy-eyed role. Director David Gordon Green moves his cast all over the screen with a desperation that should at least encourage the director’s fans to revisit Pineapple Express as a consolation prize. (Better yet, check out the filmmaker’s really great early indie movies, especially George Washington and All the Real Girls.)
I trust I’m not spoiling any surprises by reporting that every single character learns valuable life lessons in the end and becomes a better boy or girl, man or woman for the trouble. Noah even delivers a really good speech to a young person in need of reassurance that being gay is okay. What that It Gets Better moment is doing in the middle of a coarse comedy like The Sitter I don’t know. But like a sitter raiding the fridge when her charges are in bed, I’ll take my snack where I can get it. C