A Look Back: Adventures in Babysitting

“Adventures in Babysitting” is one of many movies of its era which presents the Big City as a setting akin to a moderately dangerous playground for its young, white, middle class suburban visitors, who will get into a ton of trouble, perhaps even demolishing a vehicle, on the way to learning valuable life lessons.  If you were a movie viewer from suburbia (as I was at the time), the city could appear to be an intimidating place.  For starters, there were unbalanced people.  There were armed people and hookers and homeless people huddled around fires in trash cans.  However, the city’s inhabitants, even appearing scary at first, often turned out to be helpful, even Good Samaritans in disguise.  So you also learned never to judge a book by its cover.

I should add that the cities I visited in the eighties were all pretty sedate by movie standards, but then I never went to the Big Apple or – John Hughes’ favorite setting: downtown Chicago, the setting of “Adventures of Babysitting,” (although Toronto often doubles as an American city).  When it opens, Elisabeth Shue is getting ready for her big date with Mike (Bradley Whitford), and she’s dancing around her bedroom.  How into him she is becomes clear after we see her fantasizing about walking down the aisle with him.  So this girl is smitten.

However, Bradley breaks the date, and Elisabeth winds up sitting for a neighbor family.  Her charges are Sarah (Maia Brewton, who would later give Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) valuable advice on women on “The Wonder Years”), Brad (Keith Coogan), and Brad’s friend, Daryl (Anthony Rapp), who decides to tag along when Elisabeth has to rescue her neurotic friend (Penelope Ann Miller), who has run away from home (parental issues) but then is having second thoughts.  Of course, social media has yet to be invented, so this means that Elisabeth has to take the car, bundle up the kids and head into the city to bail out her friend in person, and it’s going to take awhile to track her down.

On the way there, the car breaks down, and through some convoluted events involving a wacky driver who rescues them, they eventually wind up having to flee from bad guys because, I guess, there has to be some direct danger.  There is also a running gag about how Elisabeth (despite its being implied is not too popular with boys) resembles a specific Playboy centerfold.  Other challenges include having to perform an impromptu blues number at a club before they can leave; avoiding Maia’s and Keith’s parents who are attending a function in the city; and meeting Maia’s hero, Thor, or at least a lookalike, played by Vincent D’Onofrio.  Oh, and they also wind up running into Bradley, who’s busy romancing another girl in a restaurant, thus leading to my favorite exchange in the film.

Bradley to date: “A girl like you comes along once in a lifetime.”

Elisabeth walking up behind him: “Or sometimes twice in one night.”

Anyway, Bradley is appropriately shamed by the group, and then they’re off for more adventures, actually forgetting about Penelope, who is having her own gruesome set, until they remember and make it home in time.  And Elisabeth won’t be babysitting next Friday night because she has a date.  With Vincent, who we know is going to treat her a lot better than Bradley.  So in the end, virtue and a healthy helping of pluck turns out to be its own reward.

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