Wednesday, August 8, 2012

the babysitting blues

It's strange to revisit a movie you loved and watched repeatedly as kid that you haven't seen in years. Did you really feel an emotional connection with some of these characters?  Did you laugh out loud at some of these corny jokes?  Did you completely miss the sexual innuendo?  Last night I revisited the 1987 film Adventures in Babysitting on Blu.  Even though it thrives much on my nostalgia for it, it's still a charming flick directed with energy and comedic flair by Chris Columbus (Home Alone).  Elisabeth Shue is lovable in the lead as Chris -- innocent and naive but never too cutesy (I'm still obsessed with her spirited lip-sync to The Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me" in the opening credits).  After being stood up by her date (Bradley Whitford), Chris ends up babysitting Sara (Maia Brewton) while Sara's parents are at a swanky party in the city. When Chris's friend Brenda (a still hilarious Penelope Ann Miller) calls frantically from a downtown bus station asking for a ride, Chris decides to board her station wagon with Sara and her brother Brad (Keith Coogan) and his obnoxious friend Daryl (Anthony Rapp) and drive from their comfy Oak Park suburb into the city.  

What was most surprising to me watching the film now years later is the grittiness of it. I forgot how much actual danger these kiddies were often in!  A shootout, subway gang fight, etc.  I don't watch kids movies much these days, but most of them seem to be Pixar animated or based within magical worlds rather than familiar ones. Perhaps that's a good thing, perhaps not, but I think I prefer that I grew up watching movies like this instead of Ice Age 4 (we're on Part 4 now, right?). Babysitting is often un-PC by today's standards (the word "homo" is thrown around offhandedly to contradistinguish Sara's superhero obsession Thor). Exaggerated racial stereotypes abound including a "magical negro" carjacker, a bag lady, and the patrons of a blues club led by Albert Collins (the impromptu performance of "The Babysitting Blues" is pretty cringeworthy but sort of saved by Shue's winning charm).  All of this is typical of the 80s teen comedy set in the suburbs of Chicago where the film's perspective is derived from the sheltered young and rich with clearly drawn lines between class and race. To further its depiction of a racially divided world, the soundtrack is full of Motown and blue-eyed soul.  

But the movie is also, in a way, somewhat of a satire of the rich especially in the funny screwball scenes concerning Brenda and within the parents' party scene of fur coats and caviar (those safe, banal suburbs vs. the dangerous urban plight of economically depressed neighborhoods).  Satisfyingly set in one night, Adventures in Babysitting has a sort of dream logic (there's an eerily green-lit scene backed by the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter"): one thing leads to another, absurdities arise, and items get lost and found again.  A weird running gag includes a doppelganger of Shue in Playboy -- I like to think now that even though she denies it's her, that who the model is is purposefully ambiguous. Although the film ends, of course, happily, back in the suburbs, as if nothing ever happened, it ends on kind of on an ambivalent, uneasy note as well: Brad closing the blinds, letting go of his crush on Chris, as she stands in the driveway, the night of her "last" babysitting job, kissing a new flame (isn't she only 17 though? and he, a college student?), while out in the city, all of that strife and despair still looms. ***

-Jeffery Berg


  1. What a great revisit to one of my favorites. I don't think I've ever looked at this movie as deeply as you've deconstructed it here. It definitely puts a fresh perspective on a film I've seen more times than I can mention. I also realize these days, watching movies from the 80s and 90s how "different" they were in the sense that political correctness had not quite "censored" and stifled our writers so much. The freedom and innocence (yet unease and realness) of these stories is what makes them stand out. So many of todays movies will never become classics. They just don't have the "grit".

  2. that movie is so good. 80's teen movies hold up, 2000's, not so much.

  3. This was one of those movies I saw quite a few times as a kid and I still enjoy it for the nostalgia it brings. I always liked the stuff about Thor and comic and possibly the real life Thor kinda guy they encounter. I would take this over Ice Age any day!

  4. Adventures In Babysitting was a Movie I saw over and over as a 12 year old boy in the summer of 1987... I have watched it countless times since. The Blu-Ray should be in the mail. I can't wait. You really touched on a lot of the things I love about this Movie.