Babysitter Review: A Zany Exploration Of Misogyny And Motherhood [Sundance 2022]

Whimsical colors and frenzied editing help define Monia Chokri's "Babysitter," a screwball suburban fairy tale about embedded misogyny and hidden hypocrisies. After a drunken outing to see an MMA fight, middle-aged office drone Cédric (Patrick Hivon, doing a sort of doe-eyed, Cary Elwes thing) spots a familiar face while walking home with his friends. A local TV news reporter is broadcasting in the crowd in the aftermath of the fight, and in a moment of inebriated glee, Cédric interrupts the broadcast by shouting, "I love you, Chantal!" and kisses her on the side of the head. Naturally she's horrified and pushes him away, and the video of the assault goes viral. Cédric initially doesn't think he's done anything wrong, but his misogyny is called out in a newspaper article written by his own brother, the obnoxiously woke Jean-Michel (Steve Laplante).

Meanwhile, Cédric's girlfriend Nadine (Chokri, pulling double duty as director and actress) has just given birth to their first child, who's constant crying is driving her almost as nuts as finding out that Cédric's has been indefinitely suspended from his job due to the viral video. Nadine suggests that Cédric write Chantal a letter of apology, but in his affably deranged mind, that notion quickly spirals into the idea to write a whole book, then grows into the idea for a book featuring 200 letters of apology to all sorts of women, including Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian. Since Jean-Michel is already a journalist, the two brothers agree to excavate their own deficiencies as men by co-writing the book; they spend a portion of the film offering asinine theories about the roots of their misogyny which are immediately undercut by Nadine, who practically rolls her eyes watching these morons chatter away. When a cheery babysitter, the 22-year-old Amy (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), whirls into their lives, she has a mysterious, almost supernatural effect on each of the adults, causing them all to grapple with their innermost desires and deconstruct the versions of themselves they've been presenting to the world.

Exploring Big Ideas at Breakneck Speed

For large chunks of the movie, Chokri and editor Pauline Gaillard employ a madcap pacing and editing style, zipping back and forth between reaction shots and lines of dialogue so quickly that "blink and you'll miss it" seems like an understatement. It's meant to be funny, but oftentimes it comes off as irritating. But then they'll occasionally settle into a groove, slowing down enough to show their characters in all of their flawed, complicated glory. When Nadine lets it slip that she's given Cédric permission to be with other women because her libido has been zapped since having the baby, Jean-Michel gets on a moral high horse, decrying Cédric for agreeing to such a seemingly demeaning arrangement and insisting that he can't write a book with anyone who would treat their partner this way.

That scene encapsulates the kinds of complexities Chokri and writer Catherine Léger are interested in pursuing: Jean-Michel applies a one-size-fits-all wokeness to the situation and refuses to acknowledge the nuances that can be agreed upon by two adults in a relationship. And speaking of nuance, Jean-Michel is not simply trying to appear holier-than-thou in this moment: He's also jealous of the way a book agent spoke about Cédric as a potential star who would overshadow Jean-Michel, so he's looking for any excuse to push Cédric out so he can write the book himself. The script is based on Léger's own stage play, and while I found much of this story to be exhausting, there were more than enough big ideas explored here that had me leaning in and raising my eyebrows in a good way.

Panning for Gold

Did I like the experience of watching this movie? Not particularly. But I don't have to like it to recognize and appreciate what it's trying to do. In that way, it reminded me of the acclaimed screwball classic "Bringing Up Baby," a film I respect but which is also too manic for my personal tastes. (I prefer the whip-smart exchanges in "The Thin Man.") In the immortal words of J.K. Simmons' Terence Fletcher in "Whiplash," "Babysitter" is not quite my tempo. But even if you're not totally on its wavelength, watching Chokri's stylish fable is like panning for gold: It will present you with several nuggets worthy of closer examination.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10