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‘Young Adult’ and ‘The Sitter’: Arrested Developments

December 14, 2011

It’s hard to imagine two performers more physically different than Charlize Theron and Jonah Hill. And it’s equally difficult to say which character is less likable: Theron’s self-hating sociopath who sets out to wreck her former high-school boyfriend’s happy home in Young Adult, or Hill’s overgrown manchild who puts a trio of tots in harm’s way so he can get laid in The Sitter.

Judging by their lack of inner beauty alone, these self-gratifying emotional infants might share the same soul (or lack thereof). But there’s a big internal difference between them: We ultimately come to sympathize, if not empathize, with Theron, whereas we just wish Hill would sit on it.

On the surface, Theron’s Mavis Gary is every bit as scary as Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer she won an Oscar for embodying in Monster. As the YA ghostwriter returns to her Minnesota hometown to try and seduce new dad Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), the film plays like a horror flick with an evil creature stalking its prey, only instead of shrieking, we find release in screaming with laughter at the protagonist’s shockingly inappropriate behavior.

Young Adult was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, the same team behind Juno, and despite the fact that its protagonist is less evolved than her pregnant-teen predecessor, it’s a much more mature film. Cody doesn’t rely on glib dialogue—honest to blog!—or two-dimensional characters like Jennifer Garner’s baby-crazed yuppie. And Reitman has coaxed a wonderfully nuanced performance from Patton Oswalt as a crippled (in more ways than one) high-school bullying victim that deserves to put the standup/sitcom veteran in the company of Sir Ben Kingsley and Kenneth Branagh come best supporting actor Oscar-nomination time.

In the bittersweet end, it’s Theron’s film, and she expertly allows us to understand why Mavis is such a “psychotic prom-queen bitch” (in one character’s apt description) while never softening the character’s razor edges in an attempt to make us like her.

There’s never any danger that you’ll like Hill’s character, or anyone else’s, in The Sitter. When Noah Griffith complains to his mom (Jessica Hecht), whom he still lives with, that “grown men don’t babysit!” it’s a startling claim because he’s such a big baby himself. And considering his churlish charges—a stereotypical El Salvadoran mini-diablo, a wannabe-celebutante pre-tween princess and a basketcase whose extreme anxiety is played for cheap gags—you don’t really give a “shart” (to quote the crass screenplay) that he’s endangering them in a quest to score cocaine for his detestable “girlfriend” (Ari Graynor), who’s just using him for sex(!?) and drugs.

After starring in two of my bottom five films in 2010—Cyrus and Get Him to the Greek—Hill had begun to win me back over with his low-key (and also likely to be Oscar-nominated) dramatic turn in Moneyball. But he flushes all that artistic cred down the shitter with The Sitter. To invoke another Hill film’s title, it’s superbad.

In short, The Sitter pleases no one—it’s too juvenile for adults, and too “adult” for juveniles. Young Adult, on the other hand, should delight adults of all ages. It’s even worth getting a sitter.

Will you be seeing The Sitter or Young Adult? You’re never too old to comment!

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