Saturday, June 22, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead’ Kills Any Chance at Improvement

Director: Wade Allain-Marcus
Writer: Chuck Hayward
Stars: Simone Joy Jones, Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams, Jermaine Fowler, June Squibb

Synopsis: Tanya finds her summer plans canceled when her mom jets off for a last-minute retreat and the elderly babysitter who arrives at her door unexpectedly passes away.

If you told me, even a few years ago, that I would be thinking about Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, I am not sure that I would have believed you. Here’s the thing. The original is not a good movie. Like, at all. Yes, I watched it repeatedly. Look. It was 1991. I was a 12-year-old boy and Christina Applegate was the star. If you are not of a certain age, you might not know what a chokehold Kelly Bundy had on all of us. But even without rewatching it, I know that this is not one I need to see again. That original film, and its remake of the same name is really the story of missed opportunities. 

If you have a group of children who are able to run wild without any parental supervision and said supervision has literally died, the jokes, very dark ones, should write themselves. Sadly, this is not the case. A trio of writers (Chuck Hayward, Neil Landau, Tara Ison) mainly miss the point here. If it makes you feel better, the writers of the original made similar mistakes. The original focused on star power and the remake focuses more on message material than the dark humor.

Honestly, it feels like they know it, too. The credits do not roll until after the babysitter is dead and the body is disposed of. Side note, at least one of these kids has the makings of a serial killer. But I digress. It seems like the script needed to get the babysitter dying out of the way so they could get to the nice, basically charming story that they wanted to tell. If that is the case, why remake this? I’m not saying it needs protecting, but it is hard to believe that they are selling tickets (or streaming dollars) based on a moderately known film from the early 90’s.

Luckily, it is not all bad news. The cast is actually pretty fantastic. They seem to know just how much time to spend with each child in the family. Older sister Tanya (Simone Joy-Jones) is nearly pitch perfect, when the meandering script allows for it. She has easy chemistry, especially with her younger brother, Kenny (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.), and her love interest (whom she meets while on her one and only rideshare job), Bryan (Miles Fowler).

She, and the film, struggle when the focus is changed to her employment at a fashion company. Yes, this is a direct nod to the original film, but the script knows it is dated. They attempt to dance around this, but the sad fact is, they cast Nicole Ritchie. The role of the “bosslady” Rose really needs some frostiness and some energy, and she provides neither. Her performance vacillates from the “cool mom” from Mean Girls to a teenager trying to seem adult. This, again, stomps all over the performance from Joy-Jones. 

The aforementioned lessons that the script espouses are positive. Given that the main cast is Black, they cleverly detail that in no way should these children report that their White babysitter (June Squibb, who is having a great time even if no one else seems to be) is dead in their house. There are also discussions of what “real work” is between brother and sister and this  all hits home very well. 

The one thing that really does work here is the romance. Teen romances are tough. We could go over a bunch of examples, but really who has time? Joy-Jones and Fowler need a pure romantic film, and immediately. From the second they are on screen together, you are absolutely rooting for them to work out. All the other machinations of the plot merely get in the way of this, and it’s a real shame. 

Speaking of the laborious plot, there are just one too many connections for the viewer to swallow. Just as in the original, there are mean co-workers for Tanya to deal with, but they make a pretty sad attempt to make them more human, which is wholly unnecessary. There is nothing wrong with an antagonist at work, we do not really need an extensive reason as to why they are mean. And one of the “villains” has a connection with another character. They don’t hide this, but it makes the ending of the film lose whatever punch it might have packed. 

Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead is a mostly forgettable movie about a relatively charming family unit. It really is too bad that it is hampered by odes to the original, a convoluted plot, and at least on actor who has been woefully miscast. Please, no more. The dishes are done, man. 

Grade: C-

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