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The Babysitters

By Jenny Bootle

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a low-budget, independent film called “The Babysitters”. Although its synopsis made me waver, its cast (John Leguizamo and Cynthia Nixon) and one praise-filled review led me to try the first 10 minutes. An hour and a half later I was watching the closing credits and wondering why I had never heard of this film before.

It’s hard to describe the storyline of the “The Babysitters” without it coming across as the kind of motion picture of a less reputable nature. Put simply, it’s the story of a teenage babysitter who becomes the Madam of a teenage call-girl ring. At its core though, it's a love story of two people who make bad decisions.

Shirley, a 17 year-old honours student, has a crush on Michael, the father of the boys she babysits for. When Michael drops Shirley off one night they kiss and, in a moment of rash judgement, Michael pays her substantially extra to keep quiet. Their relationship develops into a sexual one (with tips) and when Michael’s friends hear about what’s been going on, they express a desire for their own “babysitters”. Shirley enlists her friends, and soon she is running her own escort service. Inevitably, though, she doesn’t have the grip on the situation she thinks she does and it begins to spiral out of control.

Although the premise of "The Babysitters" may sound a little far-fetched, the combination of well-drawn complex characters, thoughtful script and excellent acting never make it feel that way. Shirley’s need for control and unexpressed anger at Michael for subverting her affection, combined with her desire to stay close to him, make her choices wholly believable; while Michael’s actions stem from his yearning to escape his life conflicting with his love for his family.

David Ross, the writer and director, ensures that the people we’re watching are never two-dimensional. Katherine Waterston is compelling as the serious Shirley and, despite everything, John Leguizamo (who is also a producer of the film) manages to make his character, Michael, remain sympathetic and likeable throughout. An excellent supporting cast make up the other players in this piece and Cynthia Nixon gives a strong performance as Michael’s wife, while Shirley’s high-school friends, audacious Melissa and under-confident Brenda, are perfectly painted.

The film received several negative reviews – perhaps because the subject matter is just too uncomfortable for some. Conversely though, it may also disappoint others as it fails to deliver the titillation the premise suggests. The sex scenes are not gratuitous - with very little nudity and cameras focusing close in on faces - and therefore never feel salacious. Each one is there to move plot or relationships forward and, for some of the characters, results in appalling consequences.

The film depicts the friendships and power struggles between teenage girls very accurately. And while the circumstances of the drama may not be your everyday situation, its exploration of developing female teenage sexuality rings true. For some of the girls in this film, constructing a sense of themselves as sexual beings shifts the power dynamics in their lives, but some are left vulnerable to negative outcomes.

In one scene we see Shirley in sex-ed being shown a slideshow of a variety of diseased sexual organs but of course the more complicated emotional guidance she needs remains untaught – that sexual motivation is not always the pursuit of physical pleasure, that sex doesn’t necessarily equate with intimacy and that often the things we believe we are most in control of, we have no control over at all.

This intelligent, thrilling, sad and funny film is ultimately a tale of people making all the wrong choices and learning that, despite first impressions, people are not easily bought.

For more information, visit their IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0796302