The Baby-sitters Club

on August 18, 1995 by Carole Glines
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   This Beacon production plays so obviously to its target audience -- pre-teen females -- that it's almost a complaint-proof movie. The film, which is utterly predictable, could be better, but so well does it push the right buttons in depicting the concerns of coming-of-age girls that they should embrace this story, based on Ann M. Martin's wildly popular books.
   Schuyler Fisk stars as Kristy, the ringleader of a group of seven best friends who run a baby-sitters club. One summer, enterprising Kristy decides to add a summer camp to their services, but the venture is threatened by several factors: Kristy's emotional reunion with her long-lost father (Peter Horton), the plotting of girl bully Cokie (Marla Sokoloff), and complaints from a next-door neighbor (Ellen Burstyn) who's becoming exasperated with the ruckus raised by the campers. The film adds subplots about most of the sitters, including the romance of a diabetic 13-year-old (Bre Blair) with an older boy (Christian Oliver) from abroad.
   Under the sensitive direction of Melanie Mayron (best known as one of the actresses in TV's "thirtysomething"), "The Baby-Sitters Club" brims with good intentions. Dalene Young's adaptation is refreshingly free of the bad language that these days is common even in family fare. The girls portraying the seven friends are all immensely likable, particularly Fisk, who plays her tomboy character like Peppermint Patty (the Peanuts comic strip character) come to delightful life. (Fisk arrives by her talent naturally; she's the daughter of Sissy Spacek.) Unfortunately, the casting of an African-American girl (Zelda Harris) comes off as tokenism, because she has practically no screen time. The parts of name actresses Burstyn and Brooke Adams (as Kristy's mom) are also small, but Bruce Davison has it even worse as Kristy's stepdad; as with his turn in "The Cure," if you go out for a popcorn break, you'll miss him.
   Although this is her feature film debut, Mayron brings nothing new to the screen. Her previous TV directing experience comes through in the picture's flat look and the tired, sitcom-like humor. Cokie and her bad-girl pals could have used some snappy "Clueless"-like dialogue to go with their candy-colored outfits. Attempts to deal with serious matters affecting the girls, such as divorce and illness, seem cloying or ridiculous. Oh, my God, one of the girls has ...diabetes! Still, pre-teeners will appreciate the film's respect for its characters. "The Baby-Sitters Club" shows them working together to solve problems with a little help from their friends. That's a pretty positive message for girls in the 1990s and one their parents might not mind sitting through.    Starring Schuyler Fisk, Peter Horton, Brooke Adams and Ellen Burstyn. Directed by Melanie Mayron. Written by Dalene Young. Produced by Jane Startz and Peter O. Almond. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG for brief mild language. Running time: 96 min.
Tags: Schuyler Fisk, Peter Horton, Brooke Adams and Ellen Burstyn, Produced by Jane Startz, Peter O. Almond Directed by Melanie Mayron, Written by Dalene Young, Columbia, Comedy
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