Okay. That’s it. I might just have to give up watching films from the 1980s. It’s a shame, but they’re just too damn weird.
I’d never seen 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting before this week. It’s the directing debut of Chris Columbus, and it’s true that the basic shape of the film is good. Elizabeth Shue is Chris, a seventeen year old baby sitter looking after an eight year old, until she gets a call from her best friend pleading to be picked up from the bus station in downtown Chicago. So the eight year old has to come along for the ride, and so do her 15 year old brother and his buddy. But then they burst a tyre on the way, and a cascade of bad luck sees them kidnapped by criminals, escaping and being pursued across the city. All good family fun. And to be fair, there were quite a few moments when I laughed out loud…
… but. Oooh but. The uncomplicated family fun stops pretty early in the film, pushed off screen by a long parade of weird sexual stuff and straightforward racism. Ah.
Playboy is all over this film, so omnipresent that it must surely have been a paid-for product placement. One of the boys has a copy of the magazine with him, and points out that the centrefold model looks like Chris; then the criminal masterminds have written notes on their car theft conspiracy all over another copy of the magazine, which one of the boys steals and hides in the eight year old’s backpack. They go to a frat house party, where one of the party goers has brought a copy of the magazine along (what?!) and tries to get Chris to autograph it; they go to a high class, fancy restaurant, which has a huge poster advertising Playboy right outside, making the doorman do a double take. It’s relentless. Who thought Playboy was an appropriate product placement for a family-ish comedy?! The 80s, that’s who.
The uncomfortable sex stuff doesn’t end there, either. What about the seventeen year old street walker played as a throwaway gag? Or the fifteen year old seducing an adult student at the frat party? Or Chris’ friend from the bus station being sexually assaulted in the car as she sleeps? Oh dear.
And you remember I mentioned the racism? Oof. People of colour in this film are there to be scary. That’s it. The kids get in a car to escape a shooting, only to find it’s being driven by a BLACK MAN!! Everyone screams. They run away from the bad guys, only to find themselves in a blues club where all the patrons are BLACK!! Oh my God!
Oh, and even people with disabilities are in the firing line, too, as the kindly tow-truck driver who picks them up has a hook shaped prosthetic hand that’s played for horror and/or laughs. That’s nice.
So I give up. I don’t remember the 80s being like this, but I think they were. We have proof. Might be better to back away now before anyone else gets hurt…