Movies don't get much more beguiling than "The Baby-Sitters Club," which takes us into the leafy, affluent community of Stoneybrook, Conn., to spend a crucial summer with seven lovely adolescent girls who've decided to expand their baby-sitting business into a summer camp for the local children.
Adapted gracefully by Dalene Young from Ann M. Martin's phenomenally popular book series, the film marks an uncommonly promising feature directorial debut by former "thirtysomething" star Melanie Mayron. It also introduces us to at least two dozen entirely appealing and talented young actors, ably supported by veterans Ellen Burstyn, Peter Horton, Brooke Adams and Bruce Davison.
Of course, the girls dream of making some money--why, they figure that if they make enough to buy a car they could all be driving it in another five years! The underlying, unstated reason for the venture is that they sense the need to reinforce their bonds just as they're approaching the threshold of adulthood. By the time summer's over, however, those bonds will be severely tested.
That's because Horton's Patrick, father of club president Kristy (Schuyler Fisk), has unexpectedly turned up, living in his camper on the outskirts of town. Although Kristy hasn't seen her father since she was 6 and has received exactly two cards since, she's thrilled to see him. Horton, in a splendid portrayal, reminds us why "charming" and "ne'er-do-well" so often go together.
Clearly, Patrick hungers for the love of the daughter he's so shamefully neglected--and believes, at the moment he says it, that he's got "a real shot as a job as a sportswriter" at the local paper. Until he gets it, however, he's not prepared to face his former wife (Adams) and her husband (Davison), who live in an imposing traditional-style home.
As the weeks and days roll by, Patrick gives no thought to the increasing and cruel pressure he's placed upon his young daughter, taught to be open and honest with friends and relatives, by taking up so much of her time yet requiring her to keep his presence secret.
On a less intense level, Kristy's dilemma is counterpoised with that of fellow baby-sitter Stacey (Bre Blair), a raving beauty of 13 intent on passing for 16 for the handsome visiting Swiss, 17-year-old Luca (Christian Oliver).
Kristy and Stacey do more growing up in the course of the summer than they could ever have anticipated. The patrician, staunch Fisk, in her screen debut, is such an intelligent, poised actress of great promise in her own right that you feel you're somehow taking away from her achievement by revealing that she is the daughter of Sissy Spacek and her husband, director Jack Fisk.
All of the young actresses--and a couple of young actors too--are impressive. They include Rachel Leigh Cook as the brunette beauty Mary Anne, Kristy's sole confidante, who also experiences the strain of her friend's secret; Larisa Oleynik's Dawn, who most resents Mary Anne's loyalty to Kristy; Tricia Joe as Claudia, struggling to pass an all-important biology exam; Stacey Lynn Ramsower as Mallory, the budding novelist of the group; and Zelda Harris as Jessi, an aspiring dancer.
Burstyn adds a brisk note as a neighbor to the club's campsite whose crankiness masks loneliness, and Adams and Davison are effective as loving parents rightly concerned with Kristy's increasing moodiness and unreliability.
To be sure, there's plenty of humor to offset serious matters, and Mayron reveals both terrific rapport with youngsters and ability in maintaining a gentle flow to material that is inherently episodic when there are so many characters' stories to tell.
Photographed gorgeously by Godard and Welles alumnus Willy Kurant in irresistibly idyllic locales, "The Baby-Sitters Club" is a beautiful film that possesses the power to enchant all ages. It's worth noting that the film admirably casts an African American and an Asian American among the club members without any fuss whatsoever, but then subtlety is a hallmark of this fine film.
* MPAA rating: PG, for brief mild language. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for all ages.
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'The Baby-Sitters Club'
Schuyler Fisk: Kristy
Bre Blair: Stacey
Peter Horton: Patrick
Ellen Burstyn: Mrs. Haberman
Brooke Adams: Elizabeth
Bruce Davison: Watson
A Columbia Pictures and Beacon Pictures presentation of a Scholastic production. Producers Jane Startz, Peter O. Almond. Director Melanie Mayron. Executive producers Martin Keltz, Deborah Forte, Marc Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss, Armyan Bernstein. Screenplay by Dalene Young; based on the book series by Ann M. Martin. Cinematographer Willy Kurant. Editor Christopher Greenbury. Costumes Susie DeSanto. Music David Michael Frank. Production designer Larry Fulton. Art director Charles Collum. Set decorator Douglas Mowat. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.