Big, soft, squishy: These words describe Jonah Hill’s heart as well as his body in The Sitter, the mixed-bag last record of its star’s physique before a radical slim-down. As the film opens, Hill’s layabout Noah, kicked out of college and living at home in the suburbs of New York with Mom (Jessica Hecht), is seen enjoying a sumptuous feast, his head between the legs of “girlfriend” Marisa (Ari Graynor), not inclined to reciprocate. Slightly crushed, Noah shrugs it off—which would be easy enough to do with this movie, too, if not for Hill’s appealing combination of self-deprecation, charm, and perverse big-brotherly guidance and affection.
Directed by David Gordon Green—who transitioned from gooey, personal indies (George Washington, All the Real Girls) to studio-backed comedies by making a stop in Apatown (where Hill has been a longtime resident) with 2008’s Pineapple Express—The Sitter was written by first-timers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka. The plot, a hard-R riff on ’80s standbys like Adventures in Babysitting, is set in motion when Noah reluctantly agrees to mind three neighborhood squirts so his lonely-divorcée mother can go on a date. His charges include Slater (Max Records), a 13-year-old basket (and closet) case who totes his anti-anxiety meds in a fanny pack; the pill popper’s celebutante-besotted little sister, Blithe (Landry Bender); and their adopted brother from El Salvador, Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), a cherry bomb–detonating sociopath and total parodic misfire. A call from Marisa at a party in Williamsburg, with the promise of sex if Noah brings her coke, means the kids will be strapped into the mini-van and constantly imperiled by Sam Rockwell’s drug kingpin and crew, who all look like extras from Cruising.
Breaking through the uninspired setup are several great scenes of Noah getting his comeuppance (belatedly, by a former high-school classmate still furious about the time he puked in the urn holding her grandmother’s ashes), confronting his deadbeat dad, readily ticking off his own multiple failures, gently advising the tykes (in between endangering their lives), and proving irresistible to the fox who sat behind him in astronomy class. Unlike most of the man-boy comedies from the past five years, nearly all affiliated in some way with Apatow—formulaic mixtures of raunch, treacle, and gynophobia—The Sitter features a protagonist neither too repellent from the outset nor too self-congratulatory at the conclusion. Hill plays Noah with just the right amount of self-loathing, deep down convinced of his own merit, not needing to humiliate anyone to prove it.