David Gordon Green is the rare (or odd-duck) director that has a preternatural understanding of both the poetic and the absurd. While his career is a head-scratcher to most, the first gift is clearly expressed in his early indie films (especially his Criterion-approved debut “George Washington” and “All The Real Girls“) and the latter talent is evinced in his recent spate of studio-endorsed comedies which include “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness.”
His latest comedic effort, the third in a trilogy of mainstream comedies, is his second film of 2011, the 20th Century Fox comedy, “The Sitter” starring Jonah Hill, Sam Rockwell and Ari Graynor. In the vein of ‘80s films like “Adventures In Babysitting,” “Risky Business,” and even “After Hours,” his latest is about a college student on suspension (Hill) who is coaxed into babysitting the kids next door and is fully unprepared for the wild night ahead of him that includes drug dealers, coke runs, thefts, and altercations of every kind. Green is curating a selection of his influential ‘80s films at BAM this week (it also includes “Something Wild” and “Uncle Buck”) and so last night Brooklyn audiences were treated to an early look at “The Sitter,” which opens this Friday, December 9th.
“I wanted to go for a saltier, gritter side of a comedy, but embrace then incorporate the comedy cliches that fall into the ‘poor decision making skills’ genre,” he said. “Following a character that doesn’t make the right choices in life often. I would put ‘Risky Business’ and a lot of movies in this program fall into that category.” And Green was aware that those films need basic story archetypes like the nick of time ending (“Mom has to open the door right as everything calms down,” he said), the overly convenient plot device (“We have like six of those”) and he said at times it was strange and amusing filming these cliches. “It’s like oh my god, I’m shooting this scene where everyone’s come full circle and there’s been lessons learned, but to make a satisfying and crowd-pleasing, poor decision making skills film you have to have those elements.” While it’s certainly his broadest comedy, “The Sitter” is replete with wild and hilarious absurdisms within its purposefully rough edges. And while it’s certainly his most mainstream effort, much of that is by design. Green said he deliberately test-screened the film more than he ever had previously because he knew his job was to serve the material and the entertaining script written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka.
“You know the movie I made right before this was entirely self-indulgent,” he said last night to the audience, referring to his ludicrous medieval stoner comedy, “Your Highness.” “It was an entirely self-indulgent dream project for the 11-year-old in me and we made it relentlessly like that in a way that a very small group of people wanted to see. Maybe you guys saw it, but not many others did.” (The film bombed, only taking in $24 million worldwide).
“So I had done that and wanted to make a movie that I felt would be more appealing to a broader audience to see what would happen with that,” he said, noting that some of it was an experiment on his part. “And also to see if something could satisfy me and work commercially, ’cause I have very different taste. I see movies that are big hits at the box office, but I walk out of a lot of them because they’re such garbage. So I just wanted to see: is there a world where my taste works with what a mainstream audience likes? So I wanted to see what people laugh at and I wanted to include jokes I didn’t necessarily think were the funniest part of the movie. The biggest laughs in the movie aren’t the parts I like the most and that’s ok. And ‘Pineapple Express’ is a great example of that working on a commercial level that also worked for me.”
At 81 minutes, the film might feel neutered to some, but Green said all the pruning he did was his own. Especially after test screenings with a one hour and forty-five minute version that bored audiences and took all the momentum out of the picture. “The joy for me as a filmmaker is not only the process of working with actors, or telling a story, but it’s engaging an audience,” he said. “And if you’re not engaging audiences in a comedy, you know it, quick, and it sucks. So as self-indulgent as much I do proclaim to be in a lot of different ways, as much as I want to make movies for me, part of me is wanting to enjoy a movie with a great audience that takes the ride.”
“By taking the air out of it and letting it blaze and letting it move and not letting it rest and not linger on things, it started to feel that much more alive, and the audience was that much more with it,“ he continued. “And you could see the engagement really start to lock in a way that I was really satisfied with. You have to drown some darlings along the way to get there, but once you fine tune it, it does feel like that’s the way it should be.”
Green said the eventual DVD will have at least one version that is eight minutes longer and potentially some really crazy deleted scenes. One is a scene where the main antagonist drug dealer, played by a hilariously off-the-wall Sam Rockwell, breaks down and cries for no good reason and then is comforted by a female body builder. Another is a very dramatic and dark version on a scene where Jonah Hill and his estranged father (played by Bruce Altman) have a showdown that ends in tears and fierce expletives. As great as that scene is — and Green says it’s beyond the dramatic chops that Hill evinced in “Moneyball” or “Cyrus” – he said it unfortunately just killed the tone of the film. “It’s an amazing performance between the two of them in this dark, broken father-son relationship, beyond the script, and it got creepy and awesome,” he laughed. “But that’s not even something that we test screened because you know an audience isn’t going to recover from something that gets that dark and honest like that in a comedy. You just can’t have a scene in [this version of the film] with Jonah with a tear in his eye saying, ‘You’re a motherfucker of a father.’ Which is awesome, but you’ll see it on the DVD.”
“The Sitter” hits theaters in wide release tomorrow.