How does a nice girl like Shirley Lyner go from college-bound high-school junior and dutiful babysitter to ruthless ringleader of a suburban teen-prostitution ring? More smoothly that you might think, according to writer-director David Ross, whose stylishly tawdry black comedy fits neatly between HEATHERS and AMERICAN BEAUTY. THE BABYSITTERS CLUB this ain't.
Like many young women her age, Shirley (Katherine Waterson) is facing the stresses of class grades and SAT scores and the realities of attending college at a time when tuitions are soaring and financial aid isn't always easy to come by. Shirley takes regular gigs looking after Mikey (Jansen Panettiere), the young son of account executive Michael Beltran (John Leguizamo) and his overworked wife, Gail (Cynthia Nixon), but there's only so much higher education a girl can buy on a babysitter's salary. Gail used to be quite the party girl when she first met Michael, but now they're both trying to stay sober through a 12-step program, and juggling sobriety, motherhood and work has left Gail angry and impatient. Michael isn't entirely unaware that Shirley is nursing a serious crush on him, and when he sees an opportunity while driving her home one night, he takes it. The attentions of a pretty young babysitter are just what an aging male ego needs, and afterwards he guiltily overpays for Shirley a night's work. Returning home with a stack of bills she marks "Trouble" in red marker and tucks under her mattress, enterprising Shirley gets the idea that there's money to be made from the fantasies of lonely middle-aged men who dream of bedding the naive babysitter. Shirley first recruits her best friend, Melissa (Lauren Birkell), and later, reluctant but eager-to-please Brenda (impressive newcomer Louisa Krause). Shirley takes a cut from each girl's pay and there's no shortage of clients, and soon Brenda's snotty half-sister, Nadine (Halley Wegryn Gross), joins the Shirley's lucrative stable. As the business grows, so do the risks. But Shirley thinks she can handle it: She's Superfly in a Fair Isle sweater and cords.
Ross's sharply shot film has an attractively woozy, dreamlike quality and even finds something smart to say about how the delusions of suburban life not only permit but facilitate something as unwholesome as a teen prostitution ring. Wives and mothers are too caught up in the illusions of middle-class perfection to notice what their spouses and kids are really up to, while errant husbands and fathers are too invested in their sexual appeal to so much as consider that what they're doing is wrong. But there's no getting around the fact that Ross's whole cynical premise is based on the lurid male assumption that nubile, college-bound teens have few qualms about selling themselves, a fantasy as deluded as the targets of Ross's barbed arrows. leave a comment --Ken Fox