Adventures in Babysitting, starring the never-aging Elisabeth Shue, was released on this day thirty-years ago. As such, I thought it would be fun to look back at what is – in my mind – not only one of my personal favorite eighties films, but also one of the best, quintessential movies to come out of that decade period!
For those who don’t know, the plot follows Chris Parker, whose boyfriend cancels plans their had for their anniversary hours before he was supposed to pick her up for dinner. Left with nothing else to do, she agrees to babysit two local kids – Brad, who has a crush on her, and his little sister Sara, who is obsessed with the superhero Thor- and settles in, disappointed, for a quiet evening at home with them. When her best friend Brenda calls to inform her that she’s stranded at a train station in a bad section of town, Chris piles her two charges – in addition to Brad’s best friend Dylan – into her mom’s station wagon and sets off to rescue her friend. What was supposed to be a quick errand, however, turns into an entire ordeal after the car gets a flat, and the babysitter and the three kids find themselves not only stranded in, but pursued through, Chicago by a gang of criminals who run a chop shop.
Like most eighties films starring teenagers, it’s undeniably upbeat – peppered with classic rock songs that could only have emerged during such an iconic decade – and set within the boundaries of the Windy City. It’s also naively optimistic, almost sickeningly so. Over the course of the one, adventurous evening that the movie depicts, Chris rethinks her values and romance, and her three wards mature and come to self-realizations of their own – all due to the fact that they were forced to spend the hectic, night-gone-wrong together; it forced them all to grow up a little more. Though none of it is realistic, these changes in heart don’t detract from the film, but rather add to it. After all, the movie is not meant to be taken seriously. Indeed, for the majority of its runtime, it seems to border on pure fantasy. By the end of the night, the kids have witnessed a violent domestic dispute, are kidnapped by thugs at a chop shop, sing the blues at an inner city jazz club, get caught in the middle of a gang fight on the subway, crash a frat party, meet a mechanic who looks like the God of Thunder, and scale the side of a skyscraper! Not only that, but the babysitter herself is a spitting image of the cover model on the latest edition of Playboy magazine – how much more fantastical can the movie be?
The film revels in putting our teenage hero and her three charges in constant danger, a trope that filmmaker Chris Columbus – whom made his directorial debut with this movie – loves to indulge in. One need not look past the two Home Alone films nor the first two Harry Potter movies, all four of which he directed, for proof of this. (Though if you want further evidence, remember that Columbus also wrote Gremlins and The Goonies.) And though this is clearly a project that is rough around the edges, a finished product that is one far in quality from the iconic pictures that the director would later direct, Columbus still manages to imbue the movie with his signature whimsy, adventure, heart, and humor, all of which are necessary to the story. Indeed, the film provides us with three of the most iconic moments from any movies in the eighties! The first being the opening scene in which Chris lip syncs to The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” as she dances around her room, getting dressed for her date.
The second is the scene in which Chris, Brad, Sara, and Dylan find themselves on stage singing the “Babysitting Blues” with music legend Albert Collins.
And the third is the scene in the subway, in which the kids get caught in the middle of a gang fight. After a member of the gang throws a switchblade into Brad’s foot and proclaims “Don’t fuck with the Lords of Hell”, Chris yanks the knife from the boy’s foot, shoves it in the face of the gang member, and yells, “Don’t FUCK with the babysitter!” before managing to get the kids out of the subway car at the next stop.
The latter two moments are indicative of the film’s fantastical nature, demonstrating how Columbus, along with screenwriter David Simkins, crafted the story to appeal to the children who would be watching it. What kid doesn’t dream of being on stage in front of an adoring audience, or being babysat by a gorgeous girl who exhibits almost superhero-like abilities during her quest to keep them safe?
Upon its release the film garnered such positive reviews that it was adapted into an unsold television pilot (with different actors that included Joey Lawrence as Brad and Brian Austin Green as Daryl amongst others) that never sold. Perhaps had they kept the original cast, who all played the roles well – specifically Elisabeth Shue, who I have no doubt made countless young men across the country fall in love with her when the movie first opened – the doomed television project would have fared better. Still, considering how well received the movie was – and is still regarded, given the fact that the Disney Channel loosely rebooted it last year as a Made-For-TV feature – it’s surprising that none of the stars of the film really had any notable roles outside of it. (Minus, of course, Elisabeth Shue, Penelope Ann Miller, and Vincent D’Onofrio, who starred in the supporting role of Dawson, the Thor-like mechanic.)
It’s also surprising that I hardly ever hear people professing undying love for this movie like I do other eighties comedies – Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, etc. It deserves much more love than it gets, and I would challenge anybody who hasn’t seen it – or who hasn’t watched it in years – to watch it again. It’s eminently re-watchable, incredibly fun, and an essential eighties action-comedy for any fan of the genre or the decade.
What do you think of Adventures in Babysitting? Let me know below!