Do you all remember the hashtag #YesAllWomen, the hashtag women used to share their stories of assault and existing in a world of men? Remember its counterpart #YesAllMen, the moral reminder that all men have the potential to be a sexual assaulter and have the responsibility to stop sexual assaults. Sharing these stories were key to start speaking painful truths out loud, but they shouldn’t have been as revelatory as they were seen to be. 20 years prior, Alicia Silverstone starred in the ultimate embodiment of #YesAllMen, Guy Ferland’s STV “domestic thriller” The Babysitter.
There isn’t much of a plot to The Babysitter beyond “everybody wants to fuck a teenage girl and they’re really gross about it.” Pre-Clueless Silverstone is Jennifer, a teenager hired to babysit 3 kids while their parents go off to get trashed at a party. Jennifer is blatantly styled as a plain Every Girl – wearing a striped shirt under a dowdy dress, her hair is straight and almost flat, and her makeup is minimally plain – and yet every guy in this damned movie is either sleazily hitting on her, making unwanted advances toward her, thinking she’s hitting on them, fantasizing about fucking her, and/or finally sexually assaulting her. Her employer (J.T. Walsh) sleazes at her, inquires about whether she likes her tie, and walks around in his underwear before he even leaves for the party, and then spends the party getting trashed and trying to find excuses to return home without his wife so he can fuck Jennifer. Jennifer’s boyfriend (Jeremy London) is drunkenly going around with Jennifer’s ex (Nicky Katt) talking about fucking her, planning ways to fuck her, and fantasizing about fucking her complete with a lot of cuckolding. Even her 8-year-old charge fantasizes about walking in on her taking a bath and soaping up her back.
Alicia Silverstone does absolutely nothing in this movie to invite the looks. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. She barely tolerates her employer. She tells her boyfriend not to come over and tries to get him to leave when he breaks into the fucking house while she’s in the bath, and she literally gives everybody a shoulder so frosty that the kids could feel it upstairs. All she wants to do is watch the kids, get them into the bath and bed, and eat ice cream ice cream while reading (which, for some reason, she spills a little bit on herself which causes her to take a whole damned bath after the kids are asleep; even Guy Ferland is gross). Alicia Silverstone’s Jennifer is barely a character; she’s more a teenaged object upon which all the men project their aggressively horny fantasies. And, really, that’s the point: Jennifer could be ANYBODY doing nothing at all and all the men are gross enough to be pulling this kind of shit. The key metaphorical shot comes at the end when Jennifer is getting tackled and her long brown hair covers her whole face, leaving her faceless. It doesn’t matter that Jennifer looks like Alicia Silverstone; she’s a woman and, thus, she is subjected to this shitty behavior.
The Babysitter isn’t an endorsement of this behavior. All of the sexual come-ons in The Babysitter are presented as being gross as fuck. A good drinking game for this is a shot of beer everytime you scream EWWWWWWW or NOOOO at the screen. While it’s tempting to say this is sex negativity, it’s really about UNWANTED non-consensual sexual come-ons. Even the wife who gets trashed gets a gross sexual fantasy of her own aimed at a non-consenting George Segal (who is practically reprising his role as Nick in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? by trying to take care of a pair of married angry bitter drunkards at his party). Nearly all of the male fantasies are presented in as lurid and pornified versions as possible – they’re all about taking advantage of a Lolita – while the drunk wife’s fantasy is straight out of a romance novel having a fling and an orgasm while capping it off with “what would the neighbor’s think?”
In 1995, The Babysitter was dismissed as straight to video trash (it was only released in theaters after Alicia Silverstone had her star turn in Clueless) with unimaginative writing and basic direction. Indeed, it’s an absolute trash take on Robert Coover’s trashy metafictive story of the same name. In that story, a nameless babysitter arrives and suddenly 106 paragraphs – each broken apart with a different point of view and plot – tear apart in-story reality and fantasy as everybody fantasizes about everything and then people die. Guy Ferland clearly outlines reality and fantasy until gross fantasy becomes an uglier unsatisfying reality. Contemporary reviews are hard to find, but they misunderstand what The Babysitter was trying to do. Most seem to take it on face value as a teen domestic thriller in the vein of Marky Mark’s Fear, but the thrills aren’t less thrilling than gross. But, similar to one aspect of Coover’s story, Ferland’s adaptation gets at the wormy disgusting hormonal* horniness that men have. It’s not about stars or thrills; The Babysitter is an digressive examination of men (derogatory) and their subconscious. It’s gross as fuck and I’m kind of here for its disgust.
*And, if you think that I’ve exaggerating about the power of testosterone, ask a transman about the emotional roller coaster they feel when they first start testosterone. Many of the transmen I’ve talked to finally get why men are as guided by their eyes and their boners as they are. I’m telling y’all: men are gross by nature and many of us have to actively try to stop ourselves from being disgusting pigs.