September 11, 2008

DVD Review: The Babysitters

The subject tackled in The Babysitters would seem to be ripe for digging into mundane suburban life coupled with the risks that people take to inject their lives with a little excitement. It could have been an intriguing combination of the rebellious nature of the teens in Thirteen and the banal suburbanite life in American Beauty. Unfortunately, we do not get anything near the level of those two films, instead we get a sketchbook version that implies high school girls are thirsting to become prostitutes, and married men are all too willing to dive into the dangerous waters of cheating with underage girls. The Babysitters is content to dwell on the surface, never digging into the meat of why these people do what they do.

As the film opens, we catch our first glimpse of Shirley (Katherine Waterston, daughter of Law & Order star Sam Waterston), our primary protagonist. She walks, in slow motion, through a room filled with other young girls accompanied by older men. She tells us this is her babysitters group. Time backs up and we are reintroduced to Shirley, honors student all around intelligent girl. To make money she babysits and one of her clients is Michael Beltran (John Leguizamo).

Trouble begins because Michael is feeling the crushing weight of work and suburban life coupled with a nagging wife, Gail (Cynthia Nixon). So, as Michael is driving Shirley home, one thing leads to another and the two become intimate. Feeling guilty, Michael gives her $200, and Shirley sees it as a way to make some quick money. Before long, Michael tells Shirley that a friend of his is interested in some "babysitting" services, asking if she has a friend who may want to do it. This turns Shirley into a business manager with a team of girls working jobs for her, of which she collects 20% of their earnings.

That is pretty much it, Shirley pimping out her friends to these married men looking for a thrill. The plot does not get much deeper than that. We do get some competing pimp work, when one of the girls starts taking side jobs, leading to Shirley's management skills being put to the test, as well as a fateful "party" with all of the involved parties going away for a weekend.

The problems with the project are numerous. First off, there do not seem to be any consequences for their actions, on either side. I kept waiting for Shirley to get in over her head and waver on the verge of getting caught. In addition to, and possibly even bigger than that, I was waiting for something big to happen to one of the girls, for someone to cross the line. It is not that I wanted something to happen, but the movie was begging for something, anything to push it to the next level, make the story resonate with some level of importance. It teetered on the edge a few times, but it never made that leap.

I got the impression that writer/director David Ross wanted to make some sort of statement regarding the use of sex as female empowerment and the weak fortitude of adult men that have an air of self-importance. The problem is that the material is written so weakly that it never climbs out of the level of titillation, and even then it does not get too far. The end result, intended or not, is a movie that seems to glorify the male fantasy of sex with the babysitter while never exploring the actual reasons and consequences of the actions. If nothing else, we get the barest glimpse at how current youth view sex as more of a commodity than anything else.

We never learn all that much about Shirley, aside from the fact that she is a good student and has a touch of OCD. Her reasons for diving into this entrepreneurial effort are never explored. The character ends up being dull and lifeless, I could not muster up much of any reason to care about her. Like I said, I was waiting for something drastic and dire to happen, and while the precipice is approached there never comes that little push to truly get the plot going. Michael is played as somewhat a sympathetic character by Leguizamo, but the script does not allow it to go as far as it could, leaving him half a character.

The concept has so much potential that I have to wonder just what Ross was trying to do here. It feels like it was written by an unsure writer. Too many moments come and go that would have really brought some depth to the film. Among these moments is one that takes place between one of Shirley's girls, Brenda, and one of the customers, Jerry, at the party hinted at in the movies open. Drugs are involved, there are tears, and ultimately not much of anything. Another scene involves what happens to the brother of one of the girls who may talk. One of the biggest ones immediately prior to the last scene, but again it goes nowhere. All of these threaten to add depth.

Audio/Video. The tech specs of the DVD are all fine. There is nothing out of the ordinary, the video is crisp and clear, and the audio always sounds fine. Overall, this is a fine looking and sounding release. The image is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and the audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1, available in English, French, and Spanish.


  • Commentary. The track features writer/director David Ross and star Katherine Waterston. Here it is revealed that this was written as a student project, which actually explains a lot. It does play out as a student work. They go over the genesis of the story and the way the film was shot. It is an all right track, if a little dry.
  • Making The Babysitters. Slightly fluffy making of piece that goes over the origin of the story and how the story is about identity. Listening to David Ross speak reveals that he does have some good ideas for the story and knew what he wanted to do, although the film exhibits that his ability to execute has yet to catch up with his thoughts. We also get interviews with Waterston and Leguizamo. (7.5 minutes)
  • Trailer. The original theatrical trailer. The trailer is of the red band variety.
  • Digital Copy of the Film. The disk includes a .WMV and a .M4V version of the film for use on your PC or portable device.

Bottomline. I cannot get the idea of failed potential out of my head. There are definitely ideas and concepts that can be mined from beneath the surface, but there is not enough overt substance to make this a good film. There is potential for future films, but this one is a miss.

Not Recommended.


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