Friday, 14 February 2020

Movie Review: The Babysitters (2007)


A social drama, The Babysitters conjures up a devious but truncated feminist take on the business of sex between married men and babysitters.

High school student Shirley (Katherine Waterston) is facing normal pressures of preparing for college applications and entrance exams. She also babysits the children of Michael (John Leguizamo) and Gail (Cynthia Nixon). Their marriage appears tense, which encourages Shirley's crush on Michael. One evening Shirley and Michael share a sexual encounter, which he ends by throwing a handsome amount of money at her.

Realizing she will never be more than a sexual plaything for Michael, the entrepreneurial Shirley monetizes married men's lust for babysitters, and starts recruiting other high school girls for a prostitution ring. Her best friend Melissa (Lauren Birkel) emerges as her strongest business ally, but word soon spreads and rival girls establish competing businesses, creating a strong undercurrent of conflict and tension at school.

An independent production written and directed by David Ross, The Babysitters latches onto a complicated idea but is not quite sure what to do with it. The concept of high school girls profiting from the uncontrolled philandering of married men by organizing for-profit prostitution cartels is intriguing, not least because it is fraught with the pitfalls of a three-way collision between capitalism, feminism and the oldest profession unfolding in quaint suburbia.

Ross avoids all hints of titillation by almost completely stripping the film of any emotion, and this becomes a double-edged sword. Michael is the only character to display some semblance of conflict, but John Leguizamo fights an uphill battle against a script uninterested in warmth or depth. The other men are almost uniformly portrayed as doofus husbands and fathers quick to trade money for sex and unable to control their most base urges.

Meanwhile Shirley knows when she is being used and strikes back with pure economics, but her anger at men's transactional perception of babysitter sex can only carry the narrative so far. Likewise the other girls adopt a strictly business stance and march into whoredom in an almost trance-like state, middle class women-to-be seizing an opportunity to fund a college education (or buy more makeup and glitter).

Without any genuine human connections to latch onto, The Babysitters crumbles into a cold and calculating battle between competing girls to control the market, and unfortunately none of it registers as relatable drama. The plot devolves into a series of nasty and borderline exploitive actions featuring drugs, alcohol and mechanical sex as a weapon, a combination of connivance and naivete predictably leading to messy disappointments for all.






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