Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Tonight is the night Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue) learns three basic truths: men will let you down, cities will kill you and African-Americans are either awesome blues musicians or car thieves…which is extremely depressing if not wholly inevitable in the world that Chris Columbus conjures up. Whether she’s being forced to riff with Albert Collins or placate her bratty charges with empty promises, one gets the impression she is trying too hard. Her horror is silent, but real. Honestly, it’s more wholesome than it sounds.
We first catch Chris in an unguarded moment of pure joy; dancing to heartfelt sixties pop while getting ready for her date with boyfriend Josh Lyman. Painful punch no.1 comes soon: he ditches her ostensibly to nurse a sick younger sister but really it’s so he can hang with the less pretty but promisingly trashy cheerleader. Her mousy best friend Brenda, failing to mask her pain behind huge pink glasses, convinces her to babysit for the Andersons’ (punch no.2) before she flees the suburbs to take refuge in the city (punch no. 3.) This forces Chris to recapture her chum by heading into the bustling metropolis with the kids in tow.
Babysitting teaches you that no family is the same. There is a neat symmetry to the Anderson siblings who are healthily mismatched: Thor-obsessed Sara is cheeky and has a natural curiosity in life while Chris-obsessed Brad is kind yet gormless. Daryl Coopersmith tags along as Brad’s best friend; he occupies the token ‘wild card’ character who manages to vocalize the destruction they encounter while often causing it. I haven’t read much of Dorothy Parker but there is a line from her poem ‘Post-Graduate’ that I remember very clearly: ‘People ought to be one of two things, young or dead.’ They are all achingly young and if their first night in the (never named but glaringly Chicago) city doesn’t kill them then it’s set to confirm their bleak/hilarious view of how things are.
For reasons established early on, Chris resembles the latest Playboy bunny. It is uncanny. All the misery she endures is based on this one unhappy coincidence with Daryl stealing an issue from a group of menacing car thieves dressed in suits. This pesky copy just happens to have incriminating bad guy information scrawled across the centrefold which the gangsters must retrieve at all costs. The kids are being chased but they do not know why; adding to the immense sense of clutter is the fact that Brenda is waiting for them to rescue her at the increasingly sleazy bus station. Brenda defined always, not by the choices she makes or the phone booth she occupies, but by her inability to cope. Taking shelter in the darkest subterranean haunts such as the subway and a frat house, the gang slowly make their way towards the hopeless Brenda. Oh and everyone, barring the most violent characters, is totally in love with Elizabeth Shue as Chris Parker.
Not only do the kids survive the jaunt, they master it. In a night you could disappear inside of they emerge from it in slightly better places. Chris falls in love with a frog-eyed frat boy; Sara meets Thor and earns his respect; Brad matures a little and learns to live with his crush; Brenda is saved and Daryl lives to smirk another day. Adventure only matters in the feeling it provokes, Chris has no problem shaking off the night. She is after all, the babysitter.