One unfortunate thing about both being the youngest of four and having a teenage reputation for being a little out of control is that I never got a chance to be a babysitter. Whenever my mom wasn’t around, my older sisters were in charge. When I was technically old enough to look after other children, nobody was willing to trust me with them. So, I missed out on babysitting and…
Well, to be honest, that never really bothered me. I was too busy either having too much fun or no fun at all to worry about any of that. But maybe I should have because, whenever I watch the 1987 film Adventures in Babysitting, I’m always left convinced that I could have been a kickass babysitter. Seriously, if Elisabeth Shue could still get babysitting jobs even after taking the kids into downtown Chicago and nearly getting them killed, then anyone could do it!
In Adventures in Babysitting, Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) is a responsible 17 year-old who lives in the suburbs of Chicago. (As anyone who seen The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off can tell you, being a teenager in 1980s meant living in Illinois.) When we first meet Chris, she’s getting ready for her anniversary date with her boyfriend, Mike Todwell (Bradley Whitford, years before achieving fame by playing assorted pompous jerks in assorted Aaron Sorkin productions) and she’s dancing around her bedroom. There’s an important lesson to be learned from the opening of Adventures in Babysitting: if you want me to relate to a character, introduce her while she’s dancing in her bedroom. Seriously, though, the whole film succeeds because of that opening bedroom dance. Chris is instantly likable and relatable. You want to see her succeed and achieve what she wants.
So, of course, we’re all disappointed when Mike shows up and breaks his date with Chris. That said, as upset as Chris may be, she’s still willing to take the time to try to talk her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) out of trying to poison her stepmother with Drano. That’s a true friend.
With nothing else to do, Chris ends up taking a babysitting job. She has been tasked to look after 8 year-old Sara Anderson (Maia Brewton) and Sara’s brother, 15 year-old Brad (Keith Coogan). Sara is a bit of a brat, though she’s also generally well-meaning and is obsessed with comic books (Thor, in particular). Brad is likable but dorky. He has a huge crush on Chris and even turns down a chance to spend the night at a friend’s, just so he can be around her.
Brad’s friend, incidentally, is Daryl (Anthony Rapp, who would later play Tony in Dazed and Confused and who starred in the original Broadway production of Rent). Daryl is a hyperactive perv who is obsessed with Chris because she resembles the centerfold in one of his dad’s Playboys. Daryl decides that, if his friend Brad can’t visit him, then maybe he should visit Brad!
However, Chris has more to worry about than just looking after Sara, Brad, and Daryl. Brenda has attempted to run away from home and now she’s stuck in a downtown bus station! Her glasses have been stolen and, as a result, Brenda is doing things like picking up a giant rat and calling it a kitten. Brenda uses her last bit of money to call Chris and beg her to come pick her up.
(Of course, none of this would happen today. Brenda wouldn’t have to use a pay phone to call Chris and she could just call Uber to get a ride home.)
So, Chris and the kids drive into Chicago and, needless to say, things quickly fall apart. They get a flat tire on the expressway. Chris panics when she discovers that not only does she not have a spare tire but she also left her purse back at the house. They are briefly helped by a one-handed truck driver named Handsome John Pruitt (John Ford Noonan) but then Pruitt discovers that his wife is cheating on him and takes a detour so he can catch her in the act and, of course, this leads to Chris and the kids being kidnapped by a helpful car thief. Soon, they’re being chased through Chicago by the Mafia and…
Well, it gets rather complicated but that’s kind of the appeal of the film. The film starts out as a fairly realistic, John Hughes-style teen comedy and then it gets progressively crazier and crazier. Downtown Chicago turns out to be a rather cartoonish place, one where one disaster follows after another. (To be honest, if Adventures in Babysitting was released today, it would probably inspire a hundred increasingly tedious Salon think pieces on white privilege. Bleh!) But, regardless of how silly some of the adventures may get, Adventures in Babysitting remains grounded because of the good and likable performances and a script that is full of witty and quotable dialogue.
It’s an entertaining movie and it’s one of those films that always seems to be either on Showtime or Encore. If you’re sad, watch it and be prepared to be massively cheered up!
(Avoid the Disney Channel remake.)