Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

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I know nostalgia is a huge factor among the film’s diehard fans, but I am in total disbelief over how beloved Adventures in Babysitting is in certain circles around my age range. Typically, I hate to be the sourpuss that takes shots at a decades-old cult classic, especially with something this goofy, but I don’t at all mind crashing the party here. This Raeganomics comedy is hot garbage, y’all. It’s offensively awful, painfully misguided & tone deaf in almost every single creative decision. If surrendering two hours of my life to Adventures in Babysitting enriched my soul or worldview in any way, I guess it’d be in how it taught me the poor, disabled, and POC folks who populate (i.e. infest & ransack) major American cities are scary & evil monsters best avoided or derided as punchlines. The’res a value to that life lesson, but it will vary greatly on how much of a colossal piece of shit you are or, more likely, how young & impressionable you were when you first encountered it.

It doesn’t all start off this dire. In its opening sequence Adventures in Babysitting pretends to be the fun, carefree teen comedy its title lead me to expect. Out of the gate, the film treats the audience to the always-enjoyable trope of the dress-up montage, complete with copious amounts of bedroom dancing set to sax-heavy 80s garbage pop. The fashion is on point, quite literally in the case of teenage Elisabeth Shue’s shoulder pads, which jut out at dangerously sharp angles. Shue’s babysitting protagonist Chris finds herself pining over a heartless dude bro with a Camaro, sighing “He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” Her dorky bestie Brenda (Penelope Anne Miller, of all people) delightfully retorts “He’s the only thing that’s ever happened to you.” Instead of going on a hot date with the dude bro, though, Chris finds herself begrudgingly babysitting a pair of fairly affable siblings: a little girl who’s hopelessly obsessed with Thor comics & her older brother who’s hopelessly obsessed with Chris. So far, so good: a serviceable, if formulaic setup for an 80s teen comedy. The film doesn’t derail until its plot kicks into gear and leaves the heavenly safety of lily white suburbia for a head first dive into The Big Bad City, with its never-ending supply of poors, ruffians, ruffian poors, and poor ruffians.

The social structure of Raegan’s America is a strict binary here: suburbia good; city bad. When the adorably incompetent (well, adorably as long as you can ignore the gender politics) Brenda finds herself stranded at an inner city Chicago bus station, Chris rounds up the kids under her care, along with their horndog tagalong buddy Darryl (the most despicable human being ever depicted in film), for a makeshift rescue mission. A blown tire on the interstate & a misplaced wallet drives them out of the suburbia-adjacent safety of their luxury vehicle & they find themselves face to face with an endless sea of impoverished reprobates. The first few real life black people the kids meet along the way are a car thief, a glasses thief, and a low level crime boss (who commands a small army of thieves). Other POC include a scary blues band, their barroom audience, and a gang of subway-hopping street toughs. There are Caucasian urban monsters too, including a physically handicapped & explosively violent truck driver, the oh-so-creepy homeless, and a mentally unstable man who’s all sexual leering & gun-waving danger. The big city of Adventures in Babysitting is a sprawling metropolis of mob meetings, spousal abuse, teenage prostitution, and crusted-over porno mags. The only relative safe haven in all of this is an all-white frat part (because nothing fucked up ever happens at those, right?), which is really just an extension of suburbia if you think of the parents’ money that makes it possible. At said kegger, Chris meets her hunk ex machina, a persistently selfless white knight frat boy who solves all of the kids’ problems in a few swift acts of flirtation-fueled kindness, helping bring Brenda & her concerned rescue party back to their suburban safe zone.

If I squint the right way I can sort of see the goofy slapstick comedy most kids grew up loving lurking somewhere under the gross class & racial politics of Adventures in Babysitting. The despicable cad Darryl (who’s all rape jokes, blacked-out party girl make-outs, and undressing the unconscious) aside, the main cast of characters come out mostly unscathed, however misguided in their abject, classist fear. The pint-sized Thor fan is particularly endearing as she dresses like her idol on rollerskates, gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up to a frat boy sporting Viking horns, and runs into a real-life version of The God of Thunder (a young Vincent D’Onofrio in what looks like a gay porno version of Thor moonlighting as a cash-strapped mechanic). Even Thor Girl gets dragged into the movie’s insufferable bullshit at times, though, like in an early scene where she apes her brother’s homophobia & another where she dangles from a skyscraper in a lifeless eternity of false suspense that drags on longer than the godawful clock tower scene in Back to the Future (another comedy that’s loved far more than it deserves, as long as I’m pissing on childhoods). I also was amused by the surreally ubiquitous nature of an all-important issue of Playboy magazine & the pissed off faces of a black nightclub audience as they await the performance of a monstrosity titled “The Babysitter Blues.”

None of these details amount to much consolation, though, considering the ungodly crass class-scare comedy they ultimately serve. However, I could see how this film could be remembered fondly as a campy adventure once a long enough passage of time erased the details of its beyond-problematic narrative. Adventures in Babysitting is a grotesquely hostile, spiritually rotted kids comedy that earns its 5 star Netflix ratings & warm, fuzzy memories purely off a wave of VHS-aided nostalgia. If you hold any love for this film, I urge you to keep the good vibes in your heart, but leave the endless rewatches in the past. Revisiting the film in a modern context can only serve to spoil the fun.

-Brandon Ledet

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

  1. Pingback: Nerve (2016) | Swampflix

  2. Pingback: Twins (1988) | Swampflix

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