A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead is a 1991 comedy about the trouble an American teenager and her siblings get into when Mom takes an improbable two-month vacation in Australia. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and "ass." Adults smoke cigarettes and teenagers get stoned on marijuana. A minor orders a drink at a restaurant. A girl lies her way into a job where her creepy superior hits on her. Two teens kiss. Posters of topless women hang in a teenage boy's room. A woman mentions a 48-hour orgasm. A small boy falls off the roof and breaks his leg trying to fix the TV antenna. A car is stolen by drag queens. Kids shoot rifles at dishes thrown into the air.
What's the story?
In DON'T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER'S DEAD, a divorced mom (Concetta Tomei) plans a two-month trip to Australia with a new boyfriend, leaving behind her five kids ranging in age from 17 to around 8. Mrs. Sturak, a seemingly sweet older woman (Eda Reiss Merin), arrives the day of Mom's departure to babysit in the interim, but she conveniently dies of seemingly natural causes early on. The kids dump her body at the morgue -- and with the body, all the cash Mom left for expenses. Pressed for cash, Sue Ellen (Christina Applegate) uses a false resume to snag an executive assistant job at a clothing company to make ends meet and quickly makes herself indispensable in the eyes of her boss, Rose (Joanna Cassidy). Rose's boyfriend, Gus (John Getz), a vice president at the company, repeatedly hits on Sue Ellen. With hungry kids at home and waiting for her first paycheck, Sue Ellen raids petty cash, expecting to pay it back on payday. Her siblings spend lavishly, putting pressure on Sue Ellen to avoid embezzlement charges. Sue Ellen's ingenuity and design talent rescue Rose's failing company from bankruptcy. Mom returns early and demands an explanation for everything, including a lavish lawn party in full swing around her pool, but she's calmed by Sue Ellen's newfound maturity and problem-solving skills.
Is it any good?
This is a routine, low-level comedy -- a teen-centric version of Home Alone crossed with The Secret of My Success. This time Christina Applegate's character gets to show that teens are far more ingenious and responsible than they're usually given credit for as she not only fills a grown-up job responsibly, but also saves her boss's failing company using her creativity and smarts. Teens who feel underappreciated may applaud Sue Ellen's heroic triumph, even as she faces punishment from her angry mom. Kids may take cues from Sue Ellen's diligence and accomplishment, but her embezzlement also sets an example, just a less admirable one.
Jokes and predicaments are predictable and recycled. You almost expect a laugh track to verify the movie's inspiration: TV sitcoms. Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead wasn't a huge hit when it came out (voted "one of the year's worst movies" by a popular critic of the time), but it has become something of a "cult classic," and plans were announced for a remake featuring a Black family.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many reasons no responsible parent would ever go thousands of miles from home and leave her four kids for two months with a babysitter the kids have never met. Do you think Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead needed to be more realistic, or is realism unnecessary with a comedy?
Sue Ellen displays ingenuity, guts, and responsibility when she impersonates an adult with an impressive made-up resume. Does it matter that she lied, or do her successes make up for the deceit?
Do you think grown-ups underestimate the ability of teens in general? Does this movie serve to demonstrate that teens can be more responsible if they need to be? Why or why not?
- In theaters: June 7, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: December 15, 2009
- Cast: Christina Applegate, Joanna Cassidy, Josh Charles, John Getz, Keith Coogan, Concetta Tomei, David Duchovny
- Director: Stephen Herek
- Studio: HBO Studios
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Last updated: July 8, 2020
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