Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead

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Director Wade Allain-Marcus’s “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead” is a remake of the 1991 original, repurposing an older narrative for a new generation and, this time around, centering on a Black family. Seventeen-year-old Tanya Crandell (Simone Joy Jones) looks forward to her summer in Spain with her friends. But when her mother (Patricia Williams) is shaft at work, losing out on a promotion to a younger, whiter, male-r counterpart, she has a mental breakdown that warrants a summer-long R&R stay, which co-opts Tanya’s budget for abroad and leaves her indignantly stuck at home. 

In her absence, Mrs. Crandell hires an elderly babysitter, Ms. Sturak (June Squibb), to watch the kids: Tanya, her stoner teen brother Kenny (Donielle T. Hensley Jr.), macabre little sister Melissa (Ayaamii Sledge), and nerdy kid brother Zack (Carter Young). Ms. Sturak is not the warm, fuzzy granny she appears to be, swapping out freshly baked cookies and comforting hugs for crude, blatantly racist remarks. When the siblings throw an all-out rager disguised as “Bible study,” the underage drinking, smoking, and queer romancing happening under their roof throws the conservative sitter into cardiac arrest. The kids are force to hide the body and learn how to take care of themselves for the summer. 

The responsibility falls on Tanya as the eldest and most responsible; with some clever Google deep dives and intricate Canva work, the siblings create a 25-year-old simulacrum of their sister, who uses her newly faked identity to land a job at Libra, a fashion company helmed by the ultimate girlboss, Rose (Nicole Richie). As Tanya juggles a summer of office politics, adult responsibilities, and a freshly spawned romance, “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead” comedically centers on older sibling syndrome and the daunting pressures of adulthood and agency.

Writers Chuck Hayward, Neil Landau, and Tara Ison deliver a script chock full of hilarious one-liners that are kindly doled out evenly among the ensemble cast. Whether quipping on the quotidian precarities of being young Black kids in a wealthy white neighborhood (even aside from the dead white woman they dispose of) or the situational comedy of Tanya’s manufactured identity and adjustment to the 9-to-5 lifestyle, the script hands out laughs with generosity. Kenny’s penchant for weed and Melissa’s true crime fascinations also present familiar comedic archetypes for the film to lean on. 

Unfortunately, many of these comic opportunities fall flat in the execution. Shoddy line deliveries keep you from recognizing the joke, requiring a few seconds of processing time to land. The performances often feel responsible for this; they feel uncanny and solitary as if the cast were projecting lines to the expectant ears of a studio audience that doesn’t exist. While this awkward independence of the functioning characters muddles some moments, it doesn’t entirely erase the recognizable humor that remains consistent throughout.

Jones acquits herself quite well in her first role as a leading lady. She displays a formidable amount of range, from the short fuse of an eldest sister’s stoicism to the personal and professional confidence she develops as the summer pushes her to expand her comfort zone. The dynamics of the sibling ensemble are also generally believable in their moments of union and annoyance. Hensley Jr. is a reliable source of comic relief, and his antics test his siblings’ patience and perseverance. 

Tanya’s employee-employer relationships with Rose and her budding romance with aspiring architect Bryan (Miles Fowler) get more screen time than those with her siblings, making “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead” more of a portrait of her than that of the family. While Richie’s performance is rather flat and one-note, it’s a testament to the hollow girlboss identity the film crafts in the shape of a chronically-online millennial Miranda Priestly. At the same time, the chemistry between Tanya and Bryan is the most persistent: Fowler and Jones feel natural, weaving through the attraction, timidity, and frustrations of young, insecure, and poorly communicated relationships. Yet this particular pairing has the least bearing on the film’s events, and this display of potential exacerbates the desire for magnetism in the core sibling dynamic.

“Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead” is laid-back and funny but ultimately whiffs on its swings too many times to make a lasting impression. It has all the right components, earnestly eliciting a few chuckles and a true investment in its characters. Still, it comes together like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces aren’t fully press into place: a flimsy portrait of teen comedy and coming-of-age that won’t stand the test of time.

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