'Babysitters' doesn't add up

-- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:36 AM ET

"Paid fellatio's not that much more humiliating than flipping burgers."

So observes one part-time prostitute in The Babysitters, a film about high school students who find a way to supplement their college savings.

This take on contemporary mores is uneven and it never seems quite convincing in any way, but performances from young actresses Katherine Waterston and Lauren Birkell are worth seeing.

In The Babysitters, John Leguizamo and Cynthia Nixon play Mike and Gail, a married couple who usually hire Shirley (Katherine Waterston) to mind their kids. Shirley fancies Mike, who always treats her as an adult and an equal. One night when he drives her home, they have a passionate moment; flustered, Mike pays Shirley a lot of extra babysitting money.

You can almost see the lightbulb go on over her head. Mike and Shirley begin an affair, and he pays her for sexual favours. Though he vows to tell nobody, Mike talks to his buddies, and soon there are lots of men in the neighbourhood hoping to hire Shirley to "babysit" for their kids.

Shirley wisely enlists a couple of girlfriends to take on the extra men. She also wisely informs those friends that they are to give her 20% of their earnings. Shirley is direct and well-organized and just the sort of teenager likely to run for student council president.

It's her bossy, all-business personality that gives The Babysitters moments of very black humour. But then it gets less funny. Shirley's friends (Louisa Krause as Brenda, Halley Wegryn Gross as Nadine and Lauren Birkell as the perky, cute and cold- as- ice as Melissa) are happy to earn extra money, but they're not all as dedicated as Shirley.

One girl quickly begins cheating Shirley, working on her own so she can cut Shirley out of the financial action. It's like a quick life lesson in the cutthroat world of business. The other girls learn fast, and go to great lengths to expose this girl's treachery, trashing their own school and resorting to dire physical threats -- only to discover that the old live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword adage applies to everyone. Shirley's world spins out of control, despite her best efforts to keep everything neat and tidy.

The Babysitters has a weird morality to it -- why, exactly, are the men so gross and always to blame? -- and at times the story seems badly stuck somewhere between comedy and drama. Still, it has some sharp observations about growing up in this material world (and about the horrors of high school), and the performances are certainly crisp. You can see the potential in this off-kilter coming-of-age story, and it's a pity it never quite adds up.

(This film is rated 18A)


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