Clueless remains one of my favorite films of all time. From the minute I saw its pastel colored world of baby-doll dresses and platform shoes, worn to success by the luminously blonde Alicia Silverstone, she taught me everything I needed to know about beauty, fashion, and to always leave a note when you sideswipe another car. In the wake of what I call Clueless-mania, Silverstone became Hollywood's "it" girl, a moniker that was never proven despite her success in Amy Heckerling's film. The Babysitter, released just three months after Clueless as a means of capitalizing on Silverstone's success, sailed by me (it was rated R, after all), so when Olive Films announced they were releasing it on Blu, I figured now was the time for me to watch a film I missed.....and there's a reason for that. Despite its soft-core, acceptable for movie theaters titillation, The Babysitter is an unimaginative, unsexy thriller that condemns and condones underage lust, rape, and misogyny in equal measure.
Jennifer (Silverstone) is prepared to spend her night babysitting the children of Jack and Dolly Tucker (J.T. Walsh and Lee Garlington, respectively). In the course of the evening, all the characters, outside of the titular babysitter, fantasize and lust after Jennifer, including two of her high-school suitors (Jeremy London and Nicky Katt).
Silverstone's character, at the end, says, "I don't get it," and I'm right there with her. Director and screenwriter Guy Ferland appears to hide behind that time tested word, "satire," with The Babysitter. The various fantasies the men have about Jennifer, and that Dolly has about another man, are moments where a character's dark psyche comes to the fore. Are we meant to condemn these people for their private thoughts? No. In Dolly's case, her storyline plays like a 1990s version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, only she's the star. Lee Garlington has such a great character, and had Ferland focused on the females, and their desires instead of a group of drooling wolves at the door, the satire angle could have worked.
At a scant 89 minutes much of The Babysitter is filled with repetitive fantasy sequences that are meant to be intentionally misleading. Are these things happening in reality or not? Unfortunately, Ferland bathes everything in red filters or overplays a wailing saxaphone score ripped right from an episode of The Red Shoe Diaries, so it's fairly obvious to point out where fact and fiction diverge. On their own, said fantasy sequences are extremely tame, mostly because Silverstone refused to do nudity. Much like the film's main male characters, most of the issues on IMDB's review section blame Silverstone's lack of nudity for why the movie is bad, or proclaim that her nudity would have made it better. This is the problem with Ferland's film, right there.
The male characters all idealize Jennifer as the coy babysitter lusting after an older man, the slut two-timing her boyfriend, the innocent in need of a protector. As the night progresses, and the men consume more alcohol, the fantasies turn towards rape and violence, leading to several uncomfortable and disgusting sequences of Silverstone's degradation. These idealizations are rather standard, especially in the world of pornography. It's apparent Ferland wants to say something about these stereotypes, especially regarding sexualizing female characters, but the men are all drooling slimeballs, and because we're never given a glimpse into Jennifer's mind, the entire element of the fantasy plays like acceptance. The fact that the ending involves a death, with a close-up on Jennifer a la "the face that launched a thousand ships," almost blames Jennifer for said titillation.
Used for name recognition only, Alicia Silverstone makes the effort of shrugging off her Cher Horowitz past. If the script was interested in creating a character, I have no doubt Silverstone would have given a decent performance. With what we're given, Silverstone's actual moments babysitting are far more intriguing than the jock and greaser casing the house, or the middle aged dad letching on her. Unfortunately, Silverstone is left with nothing but reacting, either coy, scared, horny, or some other emotion dictated by a man.
And that leads to the most egregious element of The Babysitter - it's not stimulating, and I don't mean sexually (although I'm sure anyone whose watched Cinemax after 10pm will find this vanilla). The narrative is so thin as to be thread bare. The men fantasize; London's Jack and Katt's Mark openly spy on Jennifer without any of the neighbors finding their peeping suspicious while the parents have their own issues at a separate party. Katt and London play Goofus and a somewhat lesser Goofus, both of whom had past relationships with Jennifer. Their game of one-upsmanship plays like a homoerotic romance more than anything else, with Jennifer's virginity being the holy grail of proving their heterosexual status. Katt plays the same douche character he perfected throughout the 1990s, with high hair and a look borrowed from Danny Zuko in Grease. London's Jack is a sad sack...that's it.
Outside of their equal desire to sleep with Jennifer, their plan is anything but. It's never actually explained what they plan to do once they get inside the house. They talk so much about getting her to let them in, but there's no elaboration on what happens past that. And once they eventually do gain entry, the film turns into a bizarre date rape situation. The most unbelievable thing, above anything else in this movie, is that the baby sleeps through all the yelling and screaming.
Suffice it to say, The Babysitter is a great film for young boys who wanted to see some skin in a movie rated by the MPAA. Hey, plausible deniability! The lack of compelling story, characters, or plot, keep the audience at a distant and the repetitive fantasies leave a scummy vibe throughout.
The Babysitter arrives on Blu-ray on August 25th