Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Dir. by Chris Columbus (His first movie)
Starring Elisabeth Shue, Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp and Maia Brewton
A high school senior is stuck babysitting on a Friday night after getting dumped by her boyfriend. When her best friend calls her for help, stranded at the downtown Chicago bus terminal, she drags her three babysitees along for the ride. Things get quickly out of hand, with the quartet encountering mobsters, gang fights, and impromptu blues concerts, among other trials.
I’m almost positive that I haven’t seen this movie since the 1990s. However, I watched it enough that I remember multiple scenes quite clearly, if not how they got themselves into those situations.
If there is a movie for which the phrase “wacky hijinks ensue” fits better…well, it’s probably Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But that movie and this one would make a good double feature, as they’re both cut out of the same cloth. In each, a group of teens irresponsibly takes a parent’s car into downtown Chicago for a series of episodic shenanigans, before racing said parents back home so that they won’t know they’ve been gone.
However, there’s definitely a reason that Ferris Bueller is widely acknowledged as a classic 80s movie, and Adventures in Babysitting, if it’s remembered at all, is known primarily for starting the careers of Elizabeth Shue and director Chris Columbus, of early Harry Potter movie fame. While the former shows all of the fun things that unaccompanied teens can get up to in Chicago, AiB definitely chooses to focus on how scary and intense it can be to be stranded in the big city, especially in the days before cell phones. Pretty much everything that could imaginably happen to a group of white middle-class kids from the suburbs happens over the course of one evening, with so much piled on that it starts to cause adventure fatigue.
It doesn’t help that the person that they are ostensibly supposed to be rescuing, whose main defining trait seems to be that she’s visually impaired without her glasses, is very much the comic relief of the movie. Her initial scene at the station is actually quite fraught with peril: she’s already seen multiple fights and a naked person on the concourse, and a man in a trenchcoat flashes a gun at her while she’s on the pay phone (remember pay phones?). However, every time we cut back to her she becomes the victim of another humiliating joke at her expense. It’s all too silly to be believable, like a bad SNL sketch of an inner-city bus station. Now, for all I know that’s an accurate depiction of what such stations were like in the 80s. I just know that it rang false for me.
A lot of the other humor is also fairly casually sexist. There’s a running gag throughout the movie that Shue’s character (who’s still a teen, mind you) resembles that month’s Playboy Playmate. An issue stolen from mobsters is actually, believe it or not, the main MacGuffin that the kids are being chased for, so it keeps coming up over and over. Brad, the older brother of the girl that Shue’s babysitting, has an obvious, unrequited crush on her. And his best friend, who tags along for the ride, is sex-obsessed to the point that Brad has to stop him from committing a sexual assault on a sleeping girl – in a throwaway gag. There’s also a small current of homophobia as well. Brad makes fun of his sister because her hero, Marvel’s Thor, looks too “gay”, though at least that scene does have a good payoff to it. One only wonders what he’d make of Chris Hemsworth.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I hated this movie or anything. I actually enjoyed good parts of it, though I’ll admit that I’d kind of tuned it out a bit by the end. A scene set in a blues club, in which they try to hide from the mobsters but end up on-stage during open mic night instead and are forced to sing, is very memorable and quite entertaining. However, I couldn’t help but think of the possible racial connotations to a group of white kids being forced to sing by an all-black crowd that clearly expected to humiliate them. Then again, at least this movie remembers that there are non-white people in Chicago, something that Ferris Bueller pretty much fails at.
This movie was very much a mixed bag. Considering that the plot was literally them careening from one disaster to another, it probably could have had about fifteen minutes trimmed out without much difficulty. However, the acting is good overall, especially from Shue and the little girl in her care, played by Maia Brewton as a budding superhero nerd who’s clearly loving every minute of the danger that they’re in. You can probably draw a direct line from her to Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, another movie that Columbus would direct only a couple of years later. It might be worth a Netflix spin, fast forwarding through some of the cringier bits, but I probably wouldn’t shell out for the Blu-Ray on this one.
Nostalgia: vaguely B-ish
I’m going to start using this section for bullet-pointed ideas and observations that don’t fit in the full review.
*Holy Crap Moment #1 – Brad’s horny teen friend is played by none other than Rent‘s Mike Cohen himself (and Star Trek: Discovery cast member) Anthony Rapp. I literally had no idea.
*Holy Crap Moment #2 – In one of the scenes I remembered the most, they have to get their car back from a mechanic who bears a very strong resemblance to Sara’s hero, Thor. I remember her fan-girling all over the very confused mechanic, but I didn’t recall that he was actually played by a young Vincent D’Onofrio!
*The opening credits, with Shue dancing and lip-synching to the Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me,” is very memorable, and another of the scenes that I’d remembered quite vividly. I know that this song has actually been used to open quite a few movies, but this had to have been first time I’d seen it used like that.
*Another “before he was famous” star, Bradley Whitford, plays Shue’s sleazy, soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Has that guy ever played a character who wasn’t an asshole?