Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Adventures in Babysitting - 1987

"Adventures in Babysitting" - 1987
Dir. by Chris Colombus - 1 hr. 42 min.

Original Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

It seems like every good movie from the 1980s was set in Chicago.  Even if you just stuck with "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The Blues Brothers," that whole decade at the movies was like a travel brochure for the Second City.  "Adventures in Babysitting" may not be quite on the level of those other two films, but it's still really funny, and holds up well, and is yet another movie set in Chicago.  And you might think that you don't want to watch a movie about some high-school kid toughing it through a night watching other kids, but you'd be wrong.  There are plenty of surprises along the way, and it does the nearly impossible; this is a watchable all-ages movie that won't bore anyone.

After getting stood up by her boyfriend, Mike (Bradley Whitford), because of an ill sibling, Chris (Elisabeth Shue) ends up getting wrangled into a babysitting gig.  The kids she'll be watching are a high-school freshman who's in love with her, Brad (Keith Coogan), and his Thor-worshipping little sister, Sara (Maia Brewton).  The plans for a smooth evening in are wrecked, first by Brad's goofball friend, Daryl (Anthony Rapp), who shoehorns his way into the evening plans, and then further by Chris' friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), who has impetuously run away from home, only to regret the decision, and to find herself without any money, stuck in a downtown bus station full of aggressively colorful characters.  Chris has to save Brenda's bacon, and also has to drag along the three kids for a quick trip into the city.  And, of course, things go smoothly.

There's a lot to be said for making an adventure movie that's fun for everyone.  And, aside from this scene, the humor's held up pretty well over the years:

Vincent D'Onofrio and Chris Hemsworth might disagree.

The entire situation is set up pretty well; all the characters have specific motivations, and are not just generic "kids" that are there to be generic kids.  That might seem like a minor thing, but the character's personalities come into play through the plot.  Even if you work backwards from the things you want to have happen in a story, and then build characters around that, it's satisfying as a viewer to have seemingly oddball personality traits play directly into how the story unfolds.  There are also things that probably seemed terrifying back in the 1980s that come off as charmingly naive, like a trip into the big city being a life-threatening daredevil trick.  But then again, entire movies were built around the idea of downtown New York being Hell on Earth, so things have presumably been cleaned up a bit over the intervening years.

A lot of the movie's charm rests on Elisabeth Shue's performance, and she's game from the opening scene, where she's bedroom dancing to the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me."

It's a great scene, and a great opening scene, and an amazingly efficient opening scene; a brief moment of anticipation and joy that will come crashing down pretty much immediately.  It establishes Chris' character, she's positive and joyful and charming and girlish and unguarded, in all the best ways, and sets her up as a sympathetic character, which is important when bad things start happening to and around her.  The fact that is all established in something like the first minute or two of the movie (I mean, you might be won over before the scene is concluded, if you're a push-over like me) is a minor masterpiece of a scene.  And Shue has other good scenes as well, the best of which are probably when she defuses a train gang-fight, and when Albert Collins leads her through an impromptu blues song about the difficulties of babysitting in front of a skeptical audience.

"Adventures in Babysitting" is very much an adventure movie, with twists and turns just like an Indiana Jones movie, albeit in an urban setting.  As it turns out, against the conceit of the movie (that the big city is terrifying and will eat you alive), pretty much everyone wants to help Chris and the gang achieve their goal, even if they're otherwise unsavory.  And there are a lot of fun surprises along the way, the biggest of which for me was that Vincent D'Onofrio played "Thor" in this movie, bearing little physical resemblance to his character from roughly a year prior, "Full Metal Jacket."

On the whole, I really enjoyed re-watching "Adventures in Babysitting."  It's been a number of years since I'd watched (since I was a teenager, probably), but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the whole deal held up.  I don't think it's a matter of nostalgia clouding the matter, either.  It helps quite a bit that the kids aren't 'tude-riddled brats who need a time-out, but have distinct personalities and wants, and behave consistently to those.  The one kid who can't stop cracking wise is regarded as a dork (at best), which is not how this story would have played out if this movie had been made in the last ten years (look at Jonah Hill's "The Sitter" for concrete proof of that).  Instead, this is both a solid comedy and a solid adventure film, anchored by Elisabeth Shue being pretty awesome.  It's also the first directorial effort by Chris Columbus, who would go on to handle movies like "Mrs. Doubtfire" and a couple of the Harry Potter films, so you know that he's got the touch on the all-ages front.  "Adventures" is just early proof of that.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

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