Babysitter Review - A Compelling Film With Standout Performances

The new film BABYSITTER, which premiered at this year's SXSW film festival, is an intimate glimpse into the lives of a dysfunctional Hollywood family with standout performances from its fine ensemble cast.  To be honest, I am always a little uneasy when I see kid actors pop up in films.  With some exceptions, (British kids being one) many of their performances end up being slightly under baked, so it was refreshing to observe believable acting from Babysitter’s younger cast who do most of the heavy lifting in this cool little movie from first time feature director, Morgan Krantz who also wrote the screenplay.

 

The story concerns a former actress, "Hailey Longway" (VALERIE AZLYNN) who is in the midst of a messy divorce from her film director husband, “Neal,” portrayed by ROBIN THOMAS GROSSMAN.  Neal has recently cut off Hailey’s phone and is now trying to get custody of their two kids, 14 year old "Ray" (MAX BURKHOLDER) and Ray’s younger sister, "Stella" (GRACIE LOVELAND).  Neal had been cheating on Hailey and she herself has not been an angel in the strained relationship, but she is now determined to fight to keep her children and her house from going to her soon to be ex-husband.   

Overwhelmed with the task at hand, Hailey hires an 18 year old African-American Wiccan practicing babysitter named Anjelika (DANIELE WATTS) who as it turns out, is the daughter of one of Hailey’s favorite singers. 

Max Burkholder in "Babysitter"

Young Ray instantly challenges Anjelika and warns her to keep out of his way but she surprises him by offering to get him and his buddy high.  Anjelika we soon come to discover has her own demons that she effectively hides behind a complacent, easy to get along with exterior, but make no mistake about it, this girl is not to be underestimated.

Ray and the babysitter start a friendship that eventually turns sexual and Ray slowly discovers that he has feelings for the girl that at times runs the gamut between lust, jealousy and mistrust.  Ray’s a smart kid and his instincts are not wrong.  When he overhears his mother confront Anjelika, accusing her of sleeping with Ray, the precocious teenager comes to realize that he is merely a pawn in his mom’s modus operandi.  The night before the crucial divorce court hearing, with his granparents in town for support, Ray and Anjelika run away together.  As an added insult to injury, Ray decides to further stick it to his mom by asking her for half the divorce settlement she stands to receive.  This kid has balls. 

Daniele Watts and Max Burkholder star in "Babysitter"

 

A well crafted character study that moves at a pace, it is only the ambiguous ending that will have you asking what just happened and how is this going to turn out, but if you cared enough to ask those questions then you took this ride and made the investment.  I certainly did and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. Krantz keeps the film moving with a fluid, kinetic style, his characters believable and multi-dimensional.

Max Burkholder, best known for his role in the TV series, “Parenthood” drives this vehicle with confidence.  His performance as Ray made me think of  “Benjamin Braddock,” the role created by Dustin Hoffman in the “The Graduate.  I am fairly certain that Mr. Burkholder has a great future ahead of him as an actor in Hollywood

Burkholder's love interest, Daniele Watts, is also fascinating here in the title role.  Her strong presence is felt the moment she hits the screen.  Ms. Watts walks a fine line between street-smart drug user and a not quite innocent victim of her own circumstances. 

"Babysitter" writer/director, Morgan Krantz

Valerie Azlynn is believableas an impressionable woman who has moved to L.A. to follow her dreams but soon got caught up in the bullshit that can be so easy to step into.

Other stand outs include KITTY PRYDE as Ray’s high school crush as well as LESLEY ANN WARREN and ROBERT F. LYONS as Ray’s conservative grandparents. 

Cinematographer ELI BORN and Production Designer ASHLEY FENTON also need to commended for a job well done. 

Produced by Luke Baybak, Eric Pumphrey and Kyle Marvin, BABYSITTER is an impressive little gem.  It works as well, if not better than many of the art house releases I have seen in theaters of late and it too is worthy of a run on the big screen.

Lets hope it gets that chance.

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