Addled children of the entertainment industry — a teenage boy in the midst of his movie-making parents’ divorce and the daughter of a deceased, drug-addicted singer — forge a friendship that escalates into a deeper affection in “Babysitter.” This feature directorial debut from actor Morgan Krantz (who also wrote and edited) has fine turns from Max Burkholder (TV’s “Parenthood”) and Daniele Watts (“Weeds”) to recommend it, but it also plays like it’s been strung together from several underdeveloped ideas, few of them satisfying. It’s a minor-key effort that will have trouble holding its own in a market glutted with wispy coming-of-age indies.
“Babysitter” opens with Ray (Burkholder) taking about the experience of seeing his mother, actress Hailey (Valerie Azlynn), in a werewolf movie — an overbearing metaphor that resurfaces at film’s end. Hailey is embroiled in a custody battle over Ray and his younger sister, Stella (Gracie Loveland). For her, Mom hires a new babysitter, Anjelika (Watts), who happens to be the daughter of a singer named Dey, one of Hailey’s favorites. Hailey cluelessly plays Dey’s music in the house, oblivious to the way Anjelika is bothered by her late mother’s songs.
But Ray and Anjelika get along. She helps him with a pot hookup, and he makes a poorly planned entrance into his school’s weed market, hoping to impress Sadie (Kitty Patterson), who’s cozy with another dealer. Anjelika has a Wiccan spell book, and Ray discovers evidence that suggests she’s trying to make him fall for her. Romance between the two seems inevitable. Still, Ray suspects her motives and foolishly persists in carrying a torch for Sadie.
“Babysitter” doesn’t flinch from portraying the ugliness of the divorce, for which Ray is given a chance to provide a deposition. Hailey’s director husband (Robin Thomas Grossman) angrily shows up at the house with a video camera. Hailey admits to feeling jaded. “I look at them and see paragraphs in a court document,” she says of her children. When her racist Texan parents (Lesley Ann Warren and Robert F. Lyons) come for a visit, having apparently driven to L.A. in an RV, Hailey makes Anjelika, who is African-American, dress up like a maid, for fear that treating her like a member of the family might offend them. It’s at this point that the fraught dynamics of “Babysitter” start to feel trumped up.
The same goes for the finale, which involves an abrupt and an ill-conceived extortion plot that is not resolved satisfactorily. The film’s irresolution feels more like a screenwriting failure than an instance of productive ambiguity.
A soft look and flourishes like a lyrical clothed-sex montage do little to set Krantz’s aesthetic apart from that of what might be called the David Gordon Green brigade. That said, Blu-ray projection at the screening did not help the film to put its best foot forward.
SXSW Film Review: 'Babysitter'
Reviewed at Magno Review 2, New York, March 9, 2015. (In SXSW Film Festival — Visions.) Running time: 77 MIN.
A Totally Standard production in association with Willowspring Films and Unbundled Underground. (International sales: Preferred Content, Los Angeles.) Produced by Luke Baybak, Eric Pumphrey, Kyle Marvin. Executive producers, Galo LeBron, Michael Covino, Sam Kretchmar. Co-producers, Colin Sutherland, Scott Lines, Barry Honig.
Directed, written, edited by Morgan Krantz. Camera (color, HD), Eli Born; music, Josh Grondin; production designer, Ashley Fenton; art director, Susie Francis; costume designer, Callan Stokes; sound, Nathan Ruyle; associate producers, Michael Brauser, Gianni Kovacevic, Cesare Gagliardoni, Amir Adnani, Elizabeth Baybak, Randall Reneau; assistant director, Carly Sturgeon; casting, Danielle Aufiero, Amber Horn.
Max Burkholder, Daniele Watts, Valerie Azlynn, Robin Thomas Grossman, Lesley Ann Warren, Robert F. Lyons, Kitty Patterson, Gracie Loveland, Amy Landecker.