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When the world’s worst babysitter takes three of the world’s worst kids on an unforgettable overnight adventure through the streets of New York City, it’s anyone’s guess as to who is going to make it home in one piece. Jonah Hill is The Sitter, a new level of twisted and debauched storytelling from the director of Pineapple Express.
Subversive. Vulgar. Envelope-pushing. And that’s just the first few minutes of the comedy The Sitter, which, after those unforgettable 200 seconds or so, proceeds to go to even more extreme lengths of verbal scatology, plus assorted drug runs, bar fights, and episodes of grand larceny.
Its cast of characters includes a drug kingpin, his fast-talking associate, a sexually selfish, coke-seeking woman, a trio of really, really effed–up kids, and a debased college dropout who earns his rep as the babysitter from hell only minutes after arriving on the scene.
Interwoven with The Sitter’s raunchy fun are quieter and gentler comedic moments that sneak up to connect with audiences in unexpected ways. The heart, soul and titular anti-hero of The Sitter is Jonah Hill, who emerged as a formidable and original comedic voice in the films The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad, and who more recently was hailed for his dramatic performances in the acclaimed independent film Cyrus, and opposite Brad Pitt in the critical and box-office hit Moneyball.
Hill’s on-screen character, Noah, is not your typical entertain-the-kids-no-matter-how-boring-it-is kind of sitter. Not even close. He’s reluctant to take the sitting gig; he’d rather, well, be doing anything else, especially if it involves slacking. “Noah is more of the ‘sit on the sofa, eat a burrito, and do-whatever-I-say-or-I’ll-kill-you’ type of babysitter,” says Hill.
Hill, who also serves as an executive producer on The Sitter, worked closely with his director, David Gordon Green to ensure that the film had maximum comedic and emotional impact. “The humor in The Sitter is rowdy and bawdy, but it has a heart of gold at its core,” says Green, whose blockbuster comedy Pineapple Express, expertly merged the yin and yang of raunchiness and heart.
“David has a great sense of humor,” says Hill,” “but getting to know him, I realized that we also shared a desire to bring some unexpected texture, details and layers to the film.”
The Sitter began life as a simple idea imagined by screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka. “We thought it’d be fun to watch Jonah Hill, screaming and cursing at the kids he was babysitting,” says Gatewood. “But then the challenge was, how do we make a movie around that idea,” adds Tanaka.
“We envisioned The Sitter as more than a funny idea or sketch; we wanted to come up with characters that have arcs, and where things fall apart and somehow must be put back together.” Along with screenwriters Gatewood and Tanaka, Hill, Green and producer Michael De Luca worked tirelessly to flesh out the story and characters, starting with the Sitter himself.
“Noah is at a crossroads in his life,” Hill explains. “He’s been kicked out of school, he’s dating a woman who doesn’t treat him very well, and all he wants to do is hang out on his mom’s sofa and watch TV. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life.” Adds De Luca: “Noah is stuck. He’s not moving forward with his life and he’s regretting some of his past choices.”
Noah’s choices in the present are, unsurprisingly, extremely limited. It says a lot that Noah’s best option is a quick babysitting stint, which he very reluctantly agrees to, and then only to help out his mom, who’s eyeing a blind date with a surgeon (set up by the parents of the kids Noah is to watch). “Noah just wants to get the babysitting gig over with, so he can go back to watching TV at his mom’s place,” Hill explains.
But once Noah becomes The Sitter, there’s no going back to his former life – whatever that was. In the comfortable suburban New York home where Noah is to be spending the evening babysitting, lurk three youngsters – his would-be charges – that Noah will immediately, and justifiably, characterize as “freaks.”
The eldest, Slater (Max Records), 13, is riddled with anxiety and identity issues, for which he takes a disciplined regimen of pills. Even with the meds, Slater is poised to freak out at a moment’s notice. “I loved the character’s conflicted and surprisingly subtle nature,” says Green, “and Max, who impressed me with his work in [Spike Jonze’s 2009 feature film] Where the Wild Things Are, brings out all of Slater’s inner turmoil and dimensions.
Then there’s Blithe (newcomer Landry Bender), 9, who enjoys playing dress-up…in pink palettes and slathered with her mom’s makeup. Noah’s first encounter with the mini-“celebutante” is unpleasant: Blithe twice sprays him in the mouth with a bottle of floral perfume. “She’s insane!” says Hill of the character. “Blithe represents a segment of our culture whose entire world revolves around partying. But, being nine years old, she has no understanding of what ‘partying’ and celebrity culture even mean.”
The terrible troika is completed by ten-year-old Rodrigò (Kevin Hernandez), a defiant and explosion-happy mini-thug the family adopted in Mexico. Rodrigo is not happy unless he’s blowing s*it up…literally; as Noah and the kids begin their misbegotten odyssey Rodrigò’s cherry bombs victimize several toilets across New York City. And his theft of a priceless item from the lair of an eccentric drug kingpin triggers an endless series of problems for the besieged Sitter.
Still, the filmmakers had no problem seeing the hardened youngster’s softer side. “Rodrigò pretends to be a badass because he’s been bounced around foster homes, and thinks his time with his latest family will be limited. But he really wants to be a part of the family,” says Hill. Adds Green: “Kevin brings a lot of fun to a character marked by tension and alienation.”
As the confrontations, arguments, fights, explosions, dive bar visits, and instances of grand larceny escalate, Noah finds himself actually relating to the kids. “Noah realizes each of them has problems and issues, and he actually begins to understand and help them work through those issues,” says Hill.
Offers De Luca: “All the characters are working the wrong angle. They’re all on the wrong path and thinking they want what they don’t need.” Together, they begin to figure things out.
The Sitter is in theaters everywhere December 9.
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