If you keep up with celebrity news, you know that Jonah Hill no longer fits the roly-poly profile that his fans have come to love in movies such as Superbad and Cyrus. I’ve read that the newly minted Hill has lost 40 pounds.
Earlier this year, Hill hit a new and encouraging career mark in Moneyball, which probably represents the height his artistic achievement to date. In that movie, Hill played a brainy baseball analyst whose statistical approach to the game helped the general manager of the Oakland Athletics (Brad Pitt) put together a winning season.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Hill’s latest, The Sitter, reportedly was filmed prior to Moneyball, but arrives in theaters in the midst of the holiday season. You may want to think of it as a blatant exercise in counter-programming, as well as a step backward for Hill.
Here’s the thinking: With family-oriented fare such as Hugo, Arthur Christmas, The Muppets and the upcoming Adventures of Tintin crowding every multiplex, a raunchy comedy just might appeal to every disgruntled guy who dutifully accompanied a date to the latest Twilight movie.
And in a week of buzzless national releases, it’s also possible that The Sitter will appease those who hate the idea that Hollywood — with visions of Oscar dancing in its head — tends to go prestigious at the end of the year.
I’m not in any of those groups, so for me, The Sitter represents a reminder of the kind of movies Hill may have to shed — along with the excess weight — if he’s going to sustain a career.
Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express and Your Highness) seems to be doing his best to obliterate memories of such early acclaimed work as George Washington and All the Real Girls. Although The Sitter boasts a couple of moments that try to make nice, it’s a mostly distasteful romp through a series of implausible and profane gags, many involving kids who are too young for major exposure in this kind of comedy.
A pre-weight-loss Hill plays Noah Griffith, a young lives at home with his single mother (Jessica Hecht). The plot contrives to have the reluctant Noah babysit for three difficult kids, an anxiety-ridden 13-year-old (Max Records), a precocious girl who hides behind thick layers of make-up (Landry Bender) and a sullen Latin-American adoptee (Kevin Hernandez).
The screenplay further contrives to have Hill’s Noah score some cocaine for his girlfriend (Ari Graynor) — with the kids in tow, of course. As if to declare its salacious intentions, the movie opens with Noah performing oral sex on Graynor’s character, a favor that she won’t reciprocate. Hey, I don’t like giving away jokes in reviews, but you should know something about the movie’s mindset.
Or consider that Hernandez’ Rodrigo has a fondness for cherry bombs and frequent urination. I guess someone thought it would be hilarious to watch Rodrigo relieve himself on the dance floor in the middle of a girl’s Bat Mitzvah.
Noah’s search for cocaine (surely a worn-out substance as far as either comedy or drama is concerned) puts him in contact with Karl (Sam Rockwell), a drug dealer who displays a boundless but obviously false sense of bonhomie.
Rockwell is one of my favorite actors, and he’s certainly game for a far-out role, but he’s stuck in a movie that tries to temper its foulest impulses with occasional flashes of sensitivity. Case in point: The scene in which Noah informs Records’ character that it’s OK to be gay or another in which Noah tells off the philandering father of the three unruly charges for whom he ultimately and predictably develops some fondness.
J. B. Smoove, Method Man and other black actors can be found on the movie’s fringes, but they’re mostly restricted by writing that tends to be too caricatured to be funny.
Hill is likable enough to survive this kind of comedy, but little in The Sitter serves to amuse. Built around car theft, drugs, exploding toilets, profanity, and other forms of inappropriate or illegal behavior, The Sitter is one of those comedies that manages to be more unpleasant than funny.