|Christina Applegate in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead © 1991|
Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead is a movie about transformations.
Her boss tells her to say, "I'm right on top of that, Rose!" whenever she is doing a task for her. She says cheerily, "Don't feel overwhelmed, just do one thing at a time." The movie captures the era of big shoulders and women in the workplace trying to make their mark. Sue Ellen works her way up the corporate ladder, getting that Q.E.D. Report done by some cool delegation — to the ire of one of her co-workers, played by Jayne Brook, who is catching on to Sue Ellen's ruse. But Rose thinks Sue Ellen is just the best. "You're a paragon!" she beams! But Sue Ellen, the newest hire at General Apparel West, is really just a kid. The big conceit of the movie is that Christina Applegate is not really a fashion mogul.
"I'm Right On Top Of That, Rose!"
If you don't know the plot, it's ostensibly a story about every teenager's dream — to have the house entirely to yourself, no rules, no boundaries. See. Mom (played by Concetta Tomei) has gone to Australia and left the kids, played by Christina Applegate, Keith Coogan, Robert Hy Gorman, Danielle Harris, and Christopher Pettiet, with an evil-eyed, petty authoritarian (played by Eda Reiss Merin) named Mrs. Sturak. Even the name connotes fear. But the thing is — the movie is not about navigating the conflicts brought on by a mean babysitter. Mrs. Sturak dies twenty minutes into the movie. And Christina Applegate's character suddenly finds herself having to take on the head of the household. In a wild stretch of the imagination, she manages to land a job for a fashion company by stitching together a fake résumé —which hilariously causes her to take on the daily grind, getting up before dawn, to get dressed, prepare breakfast, and beat the downtown Los Angeles traffic to get to work on time. The oldest brother is a deadbeat (Coogan's character) — and the three other kids are treacly sweet, just the way most pre-teen kids are in Hollywood movies from the late 1980s and 1990s. But Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead is no John Hughes flick. Directed by Stephen Herek, the same guy who brought us Critters and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the movie takes on a plucky pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstrap narrative.
Surprisingly Inspiring Movie That Could Otherwise Be Dreck!
The joy of the movie is watching the kids take on adult responsibilities. And the reality is that in the 1990s, many kids were latchkey kids — without parental supervision after school. Like the kids in the movie, learning to take care of yourself, prepping for a meal, setting the alarm on your clock, getting the laundry done, and all of that mundane task that can make life a drudgery were self-taught — this was before "Helicopter Parents." But like I said — the movie is about transformations. The sulky teen girl finds purpose (who isn't rooting for Sue Ellen!). The deadbeat older brother finds purpose in catering! The young kids figure out how to clean the house, take on responsibility, and just be cute in a Hollywood movie. It's been about thirty years since this movie came out — and a lot has changed about everything. The film has aged well, though. The movie is pumped with an optimistic premise — that left to their own devices, kids will take on identities and responsibility and win us over with their aplomb and finesse. Don't underestimate 'em.
What other movies have you seen that show dramatic transformations in teen characters? Let us know in the comments.