When I was growing up, I read voraciously, and one of my favorite series was the Baby-sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin (and a variety of ghostwriters). My friend Libbie and I were comparing notes recently, and we found it funny that although both of us had read many books in the series, neither of us ever saw the 1995 movie, which came out when we were just a little older than most of the main characters. We decided that we ought to do something about that.
Recommend this product?
The Baby Sitters Club, directed by Melanie Mayron with a screenplay by Dalene Young, is a frothy family-friendly movie targeted mostly at girls in late elementary school and middle school. The hour-and-a-half-long movie draws mostly from three different books in the series, introducing us to the seven main characters and entwining several plot threads. Libbie commented early on that it was a mistake to have so many major characters; while I don’t really think that could be avoided in an adaptation of a much-loved series, there’s no doubt that some of them get lost in the shuffle.
The most clearly drawn characters here are Kristy, the club president, and Stacey, the glamorous diabetic who looks and acts older than her clubmates. Bre Blair’s grown-up looks serve her well, since Stacey’s main storyline involves her relationship with 16-year-old Luca (Christian Oliver), who believes that they are the same age. In reality, she is 13, as are the other four main club members. The two junior officers, frizzy-haired aspiring novelist Mallory (Stacey Linn Ramsower) and cheerful African-American dancer Jessi (Zelda Harris), are only 11. If any of the main characters could have been cut, it would be these two.
Schuyler Fisk brings a great deal of spunk and heart to the role of freckly tomboy Kristy, and hers is easily the most compelling performance in the movie. That’s partly because Kristy’s story is the most developed. After coming up with the audacious plan to run a kids’ summer camp with her fellow club members, Kristy’s world gets shaken up by the arrival of her absentee father (Peter Horton). She’s conflicted over his reappearance, since she longs to have him back in her life but is bitter that he stayed away so long. What’s worse, though he seems eager to spend lots of quality time with her, he insists that she keep his presence in town a secret until he can secure a job. Naturally, all this secret-keeping takes a toll on her relationships.
Kristy’s quiet best friend Mary Anne (Rachael Lee Cook) is the only other person who knows that Kristy’s dad is back. Her friendships suffer too, since it becomes apparent that she and Kristy are in cahoots about something. Meanwhile, the camp is keeping her busy, and she’s glad to have her boyfriend Logan (Austin O’Brien) to lean on. Her stepsister, California-born animal rights activist Dawn (Larisa Oleynik), isn’t so thrilled by the amorous attention she’s receiving from goofball Alan (Aaron Michael Metchik), who is helping with the day camp in an effort to get close to her. And artsy Japanese-American junk food addict Claudia (Tricia Joe) is struggling through summer school and about to crack under the pressure. After all, her parents have warned her that if she doesn’t bring her grades up, she’ll have to quit the club.
Along with all this, we have several other subplots to juggle. One involves a catty queen bee plotting the downfall of Kristy and her friends with some help from her rather guileless lackeys. Another has to do with an eccentric neighbor who finds the activities of the summer campers a nuisance but warms to the club after bonding with one of the members. In short, there’s an awful lot going on here and very little time to develop it. If you weren’t familiar with the characters already, I’m not sure how good a grip you would have on them, and Dawn and Stacey, who I tended to mix up even in the series sometimes, are rather hard to tell apart. The movie feels a little overly busy, and it’s littered with some pretty corny dialogue. For instance, when Stacey tells Luca, who’s from Switzerland, about New York City, her beloved hometown, she gushes, “It’s the best!” “You mean, like you?” he responds. Awwwwww.
Clearly, this movie was not a contender for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. But it’s no worse than your typical tween fare, and while I groaned several times over some of the lame banter the characters exchanged, I was easily drawn into Kristy’s dilemma, and I found the friendships among the girls touching. I also liked the creative ways they found to keep the kids in their care entertained, though by the end of the movie it seems apparent that they bit off a little more than they could chew with that job. Parts of the movie are unrealistic, particularly a sequence in which the campers manage to completely clean the club’s trashed headquarters in a couple of short hours. I doubt too many adults will really get sucked into this, but for pre-teen girls who don’t mind their movies a little over-the-top, The Baby Sitters Club isn’t a bad way to spend an hour and a half.
This review is a part of my Tales to Warm Your Mind Write-Off.
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