Thoughts On: Adventures In Babysitting
This late 80s comedy/adventure follows Chris through one unbelievable night of hell with a little kid and two teens only a couple of years younger than herself right at her heels.
Oh, I love this film too much. As a person who hated Mad Max, Batman V Superman, The Notebook, and just simply doesn’t care for the likes of Star Wars and–yeah, I’m just digging myself into a hole here. But, forget that, my point is, I shouldn’t like this film. But, I absolutely love it. I love this film for what it stands for and because it does what no other movie (I know of) has been able to do so well. This film is absurd to say the least. At a first glance this is just a fun movie–one you’re just supposed to enjoy whilst throwing popcorn at your face. It definitely has that tone, as given by Chris Columbus, who directed Home Alone (1 and 2) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Mrs. Doubtfire and wrote Gremlins and Goonies. All films you gotta love if you grew up anywhere near the 80/90s. Whilst it has a tone of a dumb, fun movie… well… no. Let me paint you the picture of Adventure In Babysitting before we go much further though. What I want to talk about is the film’s divisive use of conflict (problems, issues). Conflict more or less makes stories, and how it’s implemented and dealt with is often a measurement of quality. What’s clear is that this film (as a popcorn, dumb, fun, movie) has too much conflict that is just absurd. Having said that, I’m going to give you a taste of the conflict devices in this film. Remember, when you read this, that this is about a 17, 8 and two 15 year old white, rich, suburban kids from Chicago…
– Boyfriend issues
– Parent issues
– Having to babysit
– Running away from home
– No money
– Flat tyres
– Cheating wives
– Fist fights
– Gun fights
– Physical violence
– Organised crime
– Sing-song break
– Back in with a gang fight
– Mob rule
– Knife wounds
– Needing to pee
– Identity mishaps concerning a Playboy magazine
– Getting laid
– Environmental issues
– War (Vietnam)
– Chemical warfare
– Facing your heroes
– True love’s first kiss
… yeah… some of those things seem pretty out of place, don’t they? Now, it’d be easy to pass this movie off as another one of those extreme, over the top, silly things. For that, I direct you to its remake, The Sitter. Yeah, don’t think I didn’t notice Jonah Hill! They remade this movie and didn’t have the courtesy to tell us they did. WTF!? I think they’re doing it again as well. Ugh… Anyway, whilst mixing teen drama with guns and violence (drugs in recent years) is quite common in comedy–in all cinema–it’s the everyday man in the not-so-everyday situation. Whilst Pineapple Express meets Superbad (The Sitter essentially) sounds like a great thing, the degree to which this film focuses on its ‘comic-yet-serious’ ideas and how it slyly, yet very casually, it incorporates themes of poverty, chemical warfare and social divide is something that shouldn’t be ignored. This film speaks straight to you, the movie-goer. We all love to watch Saving Private Ryan, The Godfather, Selma or A Streetcar Named Desire and feel like we’ve been through shit. We love to watch the likes of Spotlight and feel like we’ve contributed to… I don’t know… solving a problem, or at least offering our support. Grown up cinema is often seen as dealing with heavy themes and big issues. ‘Grown up cinema’ essentially makes you feel grown up. This film sits you down and puts cinema and, more importantly, you, in your place. This film is such a cluster bomb, flying, soaring, sizzling, timer ticking, fuse shortening, about to land, to explode in a barrel of conflict, because that’s what it’s trying to talk about. Conflict in cinema.
This film is a perfect allegory to the average movie goer, and it best sums itself up with the idea of Babysittin’ Blues… If you watched that, yeah, I know! It’s not the full piece, but, nobody leaves this place without singin’ the blues. Oh, and this is the one that really gets me… the opener… that, and the stupid smile stretched across my face, is why I love this film (’87 Elisabeth Shue, marry me, please!!). But, both clips perfectly demonstrate the film’s style and gives insight into its satirical look at conflict. Now, as is obvious, this film is about ‘white problems’, ‘first-world issues’ and if you’ve seen the film, you now it’s set in a place considered to have ‘real problems’. It’s set in a selection of bad neighbourhoods, bus stops, subways and… sorry… DON’T! FUCK!! With the Babysitter… one of the greatest lines of all time, that I promise you (seriously, ’87 Elisabeth Shue, marry me, please!!). Where was I? This is how you know I love this film more than I should. Anyway, let’s get to it. The characters in this movie are, to some, inappropriately placed in stereotypical jazz bars and dodgy body shops so it can tease the hand of critics and give ‘film buffs’ something to moan about for a good few hours after the film is done (P.S. the moaning ‘film buff’ is me–passionately annoying is all I can say). The easy critique is that the film can’t balance realism and fantasy. That is true, and I am linking a lot today, but I feel by saying that, you’ve misses the core gag of the film.
The gag of the film is ‘Do you have any idea what I’ve been through tonight!?’. It is the juxtaposition between fantasy problems and realistic problems. What are the fantasy problems? They are poverty, gun fights, gang violence and hanging off the side of buildings. What are the real problems? Boyfriend/parent issues, zits and being ignored by your crush. What the film does is give you your issues and the issues we all go to the cinema to ‘experience’ before we run away with a deep sigh of relief, only proud of the fact that you can now announce you have seen… Sophie’s Choice… DUN-DUN-DAAAAAA. Sorry for the tangents. The film gives us realism and fantasy in the way it does because it’s mocking us. We are Chris and despite having our everyday problems we believe in ‘grown up cinema’. The film essentially asks us what we think cinema is through its use of questionable conflict. Now, I know there’s people who want to call bullshit and say I’m giving the film more than it’s due. But! But, it’s all there, right at the end, just wait till I show you. Who does Sarah love? Thor. A fantasy hero that is her end all and be all, an idol. And… She meets him in the film (kind of). Before that scene happens Chris and the others are taken down into an underpass, filled with green smog, whilst we hear Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. The song is, cinematically, intrinsically bonded to war films, especially those about Vietnam. The movement into the underpass with the green smoke is a parody of Vietnam war films, but specifically, the audience members that would suck them up one day and hail them a masterpiece, an important piece of artwork, whereas the next call this fantastical and silly. This is not me saying those films aren’t important, or masterpieces, but that people put too much on art. The climax of the film is a parody of the highest kind of conflict we present in movies (war) so that it can satirises both its own use of conflict and our perception of it. But I’m not done yet. Through the smog, song over-head, who do we meet? Thor. As played by Vincent D’Onofrio, Pvt. Pyle, fresh out of ‘Nam, trimmed and hunkered, blond and beautiful, post-Full Metal Jacket. BOOM.
But, what does this mean? Apart from the obvious juxtaposition between films (this and Full Metal Jacket) we have a huge moment of symbolism. D’Onofrio as Thor is Sarah’s hero. But, in reality he’s just a mechanic–oh wait, no, he’s Vincent D’Onofrio, the actor. Duh. Sarah is the audience and Vincent D’Onofrio as the mechanic as Thor is cinema. Cinema is a bunch of talented weirdos making up stuff and putting on a magical screen, moving pictures for us all, a miracle. There are three layers of cinema that this film makes explicit. There’s the truth, a bunch of actors reading lines in front of a camera. There’s the illusion, a story, characters, a movie. And there’s the fantasy, idols, high art, movies we are in literal and irrational love with (I’m not excerpt from criticism here). If we are Sarah, Chris, Brad. Daryl sitting in a cinema, the film looks down our irrational perspective of conflict and how it affects the ‘quality of cinema’. Now, in the 80s cinema changed quite a bit. It was taken over by the teens. The biggest films were now Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Star Wars, E.T, Back To The Future and so on. Resultantly, the 80s to many people the death of cinema. The core criticism here comes from the idea of conflict, reality and fantasy. What the movies where trying to do was what the Italian neo-realsits like De Sica, Fellini and Rosselini did in the 40s. Whereas films like Rome, Open City, La Strada, or Bicycles Thieves focused on war torn and ravaged cities and their people, Back To The Future and Breakfast Club focused on Ferris’ ideals and fantasy.
What all the previous films have in common is what essentially what all films do. They are wish-fulling fantasies. We get to have ourselves represented on screen. Us and our problems. Adventures In Babysitting does not reduce teen problems to laughably negligible griping. It expresses what teens are scared of. Whereas Gran in ’43 had to deal with hunger and Nazi occupation, Brad has to deal with the distant danger of inner city crime. Yes, Gran had it worse, a lot worse, but give Brad a break. Brad doesn’t know what hunger pains feel like or what gunfire sounds like. But he’s human. Fear and pain is relative to what we know. There’s an arbitrary 1 to 100 for all of us and its set by norm and worse experience ever. Brad’s 100 is nothing in comparison to Gran’s, getting a D- in Biology is nothing like waiting out a rain of shells, but 100 they are nonetheless. What does this have to do with cinema? Well, what resonates with audiences ranges widely. You might hate it, but some people love Transformers–all 12,00 of them. At the same time some people just won’t understand A Streetcar Named Desire. Adventures In Babysitting makes a case for the teens. It reflects their naivety whilst respecting their problems. Simultaneously, it talks to the old guy who doesn’t get why so many people love Mad Max, Batman V Superman, The Notebook, and just simply doesn’t care for the likes of Star Wars and–yeah, copying and pasting to make a point. The film juxtaposes itself with Full Metal Jacket, it juxtaposes ‘fantastical conflict’ with ‘realistic conflict’, so we can be reminded that we sit at home or in a theatre watching a bunch of grown ups play make-believe.
All in all, the film takes away a bit of cinema’s magic to talk sense. Conflict (as presented through film) is a mere shadow of reality, but is also born out of fear. Fear is relative, but never irrational in a moment of panic. This means that we are consumed by ourselves and cinema is a mere form of entertainment, merely representative of situations we’ll, most probably, never be in. By being unbalanced in the portrayal of reality and fantasy, Adventures In Babysitting shows the thin line cinema walks, and so brings in the truth we all love to forget. It’s just a movie. Watching Full Metal Jacket doesn’t mean you’ve been in the shit. By seeing Adventures In Babysiting you haven’t either, but that’s the fun. The end here point being, if one film’s just a movie, than so are all the films, conflict is conflict, don’t confuse it with reality.
Ok, my final words need to be that I don’t criticise those who take art seriously–I’m one of you. I only think that this film makes a good point of showing us as being a little too much like Sarah knelt at ‘Thor’s’ feet. We’re a weird bunch, but needn’t hold films to such a high standards. 80s films are fun after all. This is why I try not to explicitly review, but explore what a film means. So, comment below and tell me the films you think need to be taken too serious for a moment and explored to absurd depths.
Forbidden Planet – Innocence And The Tiger
Grizzly Man – The Invisible Line
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