Ignoring the ick factor

Special to The Times

Sometimes timing really does make a difference, as the real world can creep in and frame perceptions of events on-screen. Having its theatrical release hot on the heels of the Miley Cyrus-Vanity Fair dust-up, "The Babysitters" flirts with many of the issues at the core of that manufactured scandal, questions involving how young people are to be expected to navigate a hyper-sexualized cultural landscape as well as the ways that the stunted emotional growth of the older age-brackets can trickle down the generational ladder.

In the film, a group of high school girls begins to perform a little added service for the dads giving them a ride home after a night of baby-sitting, and the burgeoning prostitution ring quickly gets out of control.

Certainly better than it could have been, "The Babysitters" could also have been much better. Writer-director David Ross crams too much into what might have been an elegantly compact film, merely pointing down many roads without fully exploring any of them.

At its core, "The Babysitters" is a female inversion of "Risky Business," putting the entrepreneurial spirit, rebellious attitude and focus-of-power onto a shy and perceptive teenage girl (Katherine Waterston) rather than a dopey horn-dog boy. This is really all the story that Ross needed, and every time he veers from it, the film loses focus.

Among his side journeys, Ross steers the movie through the suburban ennui of "American Beauty," and, just as that film did, largely elides the underlying ickiness of grown men wanting sex with girls the age of their own daughters. (A quick mention early on by one girl that she is a minor is quickly passed by and never brought up again.)

Ross pays too much attention to a character played by John Leguizamo as the girls' first married suburban john, and as a final pile-on to the story, the baby-sitters themselves fall into a bout of competitive "Mean Girls" infighting, battling for money and control.

Still, the film remains engaging in no small part because of the beguiling and enigmatic performance of Waterston, daughter of "Law & Order" star Sam Waterston. It is a shame she isn't given a better context in which to thrive.


"The Babysitters." MPAA rating: R for disturbing strong sexual content, language and some drug use involving teens. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In limited release.

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