Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991)

After the massive success of “Home Alone” in 1990, every studio was searching for their own twist on the formula. “Don’t Tell Mom…” has the privilege of being held down mainly by its ridiculous title, and by the fact that it’s not really a “Home Alone” clone when all is said and done. Sure, the movie is about a group of suburban kids left to their own devices, and yes it shows kids wreaking havoc in their house, but it’s not really a clone of the Chris Columbus film. It’s nowhere near as funny or interesting, either. But you can sense the studio working for their own franchise.

Instead of one suburban kid, it’ll be five! Instead of being home alone because they’re left behind, they’re home alone because their babysitter croaked! And instead of a young blond boy, we’ll give them a busty blond female teenager! It’s kismet! However, in spite of the fact it’s become a running joke over the years, it’s not really that bad a movie, either. It’s mainly a vehicle for Christina Applegate who experienced fame in the nineties thanks to her role on the hit sitcom “Married with Children.” Director Stephen Herek bases the entirety of the movie around Applegate’s character Sue Ellen. When their mother goes on a vacation to Australia for three months, her five kids are left alone with a crabby and very rotten babysitter who keeps the kids under lock and key and under strict rule. When the babysitter suddenly dies, the children are left to give her a funeral and pretty much use the opportunity to stay alone until their mom gets back.

“Don’t Tell Mom…” spends only about fifty percent of its run time on kids wreaking havoc and having fun without the adults, as we watch some interesting gags including the oldest son Kenny doing the dishes by shooting them with a shot gun. But soon the house gets dirty, food runs out, and fun stops. As does the money, when they soon realize their summer money went along with their babysitter to the funeral home with no hope of re-claiming it. “Don’t Tell Mom…” eventually runs off the rails, dodging the black humor of the dead babysitter, and really just becomes a romance comedy about how oldest daughter Sue Ellen manages to get in to the world of fashion and completely change the industry from the bottom up, while discovering what being an adult is really like.

The rest of the children are pushed aside for the most part as Applegate takes center stage to play this unrealized wunderkind who takes the style world by storm and has to figure out how to break it to her boss, who she becomes quick friends with over the course of the three months. There’s also her relationship with fast food worker Bryan that becomes the primary focus when we’re not seeing a more teenage version of “Working Girl” take place. “Don’t Tell Mom…” ends on a surprisingly light note, and looking back it surely has its merits as a solid however forgettable family comedy worthy of a watch if only for the kitsch value. By no means it “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead” a comedy masterpiece, but it’s certainly not the piece of tripe it’s been painted as since its initial release. True, the absurd title opens it up for mockery, but as a film it’s a solid bit of nineties light comedy. And a fun experience for anyone who remembers fawning over Christina Applegate.

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