SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Quebec director Monia Chokri’s Babysitter is a striking French-language comedy that tackles sexism in the modern era. The movie opens with a bunch of dudes at a fight openly commenting to the women sitting near them about their bodies. After a surreal swirl of beer, butts, and boobies, 42-year-old Cedric (Patrick Hivon) stumbles out into the street celebration with his buddies. He drunkenly runs up and kisses TV reporter Chantal Tremblay (Eve Duranceau) during a live broadcast.
Meanwhile, while sitting at home nursing their infant daughter, Cedric’s girlfriend, Nadine (Monia Chokri), gets notifications of the viral video of the kiss. Cedric is recognized by strangers in public the next day, as he is now the “I love you, Chantal” guy. This amuses him until he gets fired from his engineering job for assaulting the woman, which his company won’t tolerate. When he disputes the act as assault, he’s informed of a recently published article that characterized Cedric’s behavior as rampant misogyny.
The article was written by Cedric’s brother Jean Michel (Steve Laplante). When Cedric confronts him, Jean Michel challenges his sibling to confront his sexist attitudes and objectification of women. What starts off as an apology letter from Cedric to Chantal blossoms into a novel of self-examination of his sexism, which Jean Michel starts collaborating on.
Babysitter also follows Nadine, who can’t get any sleep due to the non-stop crying from the baby, pretends to go back to work when she is really sleeping in motel rooms all day. Overwhelmed, Cedric hires 22-year-old Amy (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) as a babysitter. She has a fierce streak of zany but can make the baby sleep. Amy’s liberated energy starts ripping the fabric of Nadine and Cedric’s lives, while woke Jean Michel starts acting like a horn dog around her. Things get complicated as Amy causes everyone to find out more about themselves.
“Amy’s liberated energy starts ripping the fabric of Nadine and Cedric’s lives…”
Babysitter is based on a play by Catherine Leger, who wrote this adaptation. Anyone wanting a master class on adapting a play to film needs to watch this. Leger’s screenplay retains the snappy dialogue while opening the scene variety up to a cinematic scale. At no time did I get the claustrophobia of setting I usually get from adaptations.
The narrative rejoices in the current historical atmosphere where for the first time, men have to answer for their misogynistic behavior instead of women having to defend why they are offended by it. Watching the reactions of the chauvinist pigs while they see their sty hosed clean is an absolute joy. The comedic material mined from Cedric and Jean Michel struggling to examine their sexist attitudes in a way that isn’t inherently sexist is insightful and hilarious.
Chokri’s performance pulls the most laughs, as she has that Chaplin knack of setting up unexpected moments of humor. Her struggle with insomnia is exceptionally well-played. Tereszkiewicz a gravity that most wouldn’t have applied to what seems like a nymphette Mary Poppins character. The characters have depth but never lose sight of the comedy.
Where the thunder really lives is in Chokri’s dynamite directing style. Using smart angles and perfectly timed cuts, the filmmaker creates hyperkinetic energy that makes the snappy dialogue explode. Images ping pong into each other and then spin out. Babysitter has that same strychnine feel that Sam Raimi summoned in Crimewave, Evil Dead 2, and Darkman.
Chokri’s work has a pulse that beats so hard it could split veins. Yet, it remains in a reality that is vulnerable to suddenly wacky quakes. On style alone, Babysitter is a triumph. But add all the symbolism that the movie’s dripping in, particularly the closing sequence and the superb acting, and you have yourself one hell of a picture. Chokri is a talent worth keeping an eye on, both in front and behind the camera.
Babysitter screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…Chokri is a talent worth keeping an eye on, both in front and behind the camera."