Follow TV Tropes


Film / Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead

Go To

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead is a 1991 comedy film directed by Stephen Herek and starring Christina Applegate.

When their mother goes to Australia for the summer, the Crandell children are loath to find themselves in the charge of a crotchety old babysitter. When she promptly dies, they decide to keep that key fact from their mother so they can enjoy their summer with no adults to tell them what to do. However, their scant funds soon run out, followed by their food. Oldest daughter Sue Ellen (Applegate) must figure out how to take care of her younger siblings while keeping their mother in the dark.

Provides examples of:

  • Accidental Pervert: Gus propositions Sue Ellen several times to which she refuses, and he has no intention of letting up. He doesn't know it, but she's 17. When Sue Ellen makes her public confession at the climax, revealing her age, he looks like he's about to choke.
  • Anything That Moves: Gus gets around a lot and wastes no time trying to get Sue Ellen into bed.
  • Asshole Victim: Mrs. Sturak reveals herself to be a highly strict Babysitter from Hell the moment the parents leave (after pretending to be a sweet old lady). When she dies of a heart attack, the Crandall teens' immediate concern (after delivering her to a funeral parlor) is "Yay! We have the house for ourselves!" And their celebration ends when it turns out Sturak stole all their grocery money that their mother put in an envelope and hid it in her own pockets.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Inverted. Sue Ellen calls Kenny a "prick" twice and both times the line was re-dubbed to "punk" in order for the film to keep its PG-13 rating.
    • Later, when the car is stolen, Kenny's line "What are you bitches doing in our car?" was changed to "What are you queens doing in our car?". Afterward, Sue Ellen is clearly saying "Shit!" but the line was re-dubbed to "Liza!" Kenny's use of the word "fuck", when he drops his marijuana plant, is most likely the reason for the all the dialogue change as most PG-13 films are allowed one use of the F word as long as the cursing is kept to a minimum in the rest of the film.
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Walter is the youngest out of the Crandell siblings.
  • Babysitter from Hell: Mrs. Sturak who is very abusive and mean towards the Crandells.
  • Becoming the Mask: Sue Ellen eventually becomes the very professional she is pretending to be.
  • Benevolent Boss: Sue Ellen's boss Rose at GAW is definitely this, even forgiving her for her deception when it is revealed, and offering her a job for real. To be fair, Sue Ellen has been doing the job very well, and she's just headed a project and made a major presentation that has saved Rose's entire division of the company. By the end, they've also become an Intergenerational Friendship.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Rose well and truly takes Sue Ellen under her wing, helping to nurture her career and protect her from the machinations of Carolyn and Bruce.
  • Bitch Alert: Carolyn is introduced as a snooty receptionist who not only publicly humiliates Sue Ellen for going to the wrong location to interview for the position and speaks to her like she's stupid, but isn't above badmouthing her to the person she was on the phone with even though she didn't even know her name. Rose's attitude towards Carolyn indicates it's not a rare occurrence.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mrs. Sturak, who acts like a typical sweet old lady until the moment Mrs. Crandall leaves.
  • Boss's Unfavorite Employee: Rose absolutely loathes Carolyn and doesn't seem to mind letting her know it. Justified as Carolyn is an obnoxious, unpleasant Jerkass.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: The three younger kids are very much this, especially with how they completely blew through $10,000 with very little remorse.
  • Brick Joke: Two back to back:
    • After the babysitter, Mrs. Sturak, dies in her sleep, the kids put her body in a travel case and drop it off at the morgue. She's only briefly mentioned a few times afterward (when the kids' mother calls for Mrs. Sturak, they make up excuses for her absence), and her Buick is soon stolen by drag queens. The film ends with the kids' mother asking, "Where is the babysitter?"
    • The credits roll over the two mortuary workers who had found Mrs. Sturak's body and gave her a proper burial, remarking over her grave that she must have been a great old gal to have left them so much money. Her headstone reads the same as the note the kids put in with her body: "NICE OLD LADY INSIDE. DIED OF NATURAL CAUSES."
  • Burger Fool: Sue Ellen briefly works as one before quitting to get a white-collar job at GAW. Her boyfriend Bryan is a more permanent example until he goes off to college and even drives around a goofy food truck throughout the course of the movie.
  • Character Development: Both Sue Ellen and Kenny become much more mature with the former getting a real idea of what her single mother goes through as well as knowing how much hard work her dream job would take (something she'll likely be able to get once she's had more age and experience) and the latter starts to find a purpose in life with nurturing his younger brothers and sister which leads him to apply for culinary school.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mr. Egg, the manager of Clown Dog.
    Sue Ellen: Did he just finish reading Dianetics or something?
    Bryan: Oh no, he's just on helium.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The one coworker at GAW with whom Sue Ellen clashes, Carolyn, happens to be the older sister of Bryan, whom Sue Ellen meets earlier in the film and takes a liking to, while working at Clown Dog.
  • Cool Car: Sue Ellen keeps and drives Mrs. Sturak's Buick because "it's a classic."
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Really, the whole scenario wouldn't have happened if the kids had just simply told their mom that their babysitter died in her sleep instead of just fending for themselves.
  • Covers Always Lie: The film poster (seen above) suggests the kids treated Mrs. Sturak's body with far less respect than they actually did. It also seems to imply the kids themselves were responsible for killing her.
    • The outfit that Christina Applegate wears is also far more revealing than anything she wears in the actual movie, including out of the office; probably to try and get fans of Kelly Bundy to see it.
  • Credit Card Plot: The younger kids get into Sue Ellen's petty cash from work and go nuts with it. They spend three times what her check turns out to be.
  • Cucumber Facial: Rose suggests Sue Ellen relax after work by having a glass of wine and giving herself a cucumber facial.
  • Deadpan Snarker / Mouthy Kid: The apathy displayed by the Crandell siblings towards their own mother, let alone Mrs. Sturak, places the film firmly in the late 80's/early 90's era, when movie parents were far more often depicted as incompetent bunglers and/or overly strict, requiring avoidance at all costs.
    Sue Ellen: Do you really want to go crawling to aunt Pat, or one of Mom's semi-wretched friends?
  • Disappeared Dad: The Crandells' father is mentioned only briefly and not favorably.
    Melissa: I wish Dad was here.
    Mom: No you don't.
    • And another instance:
    Sue Ellen: We could call Dad.
    Kenny: Dad doesn't care.
  • Double Entendre: Rose's line to Sue Ellen about how all women over 25 should have a cucumber in the house.
    • Also, Sue Ellen's family nickname "Swell", could also be a reference to Christina Applegate's then-famous figure.
  • Drag Queens: Liza Minelli steals their Cool Car.
    Kenny: Hey! What are you queens doing with our car?!
    Sue Ellen/Kenny: Liza???
  • Dramatic Dislocation: Thanks to Kenny being too preoccupied with his stoning session, an unsupervised Walter broke his leg from falling off the roof while fixing the TV antenna. This became the turning point where the Crandell kids finally take responsibility, especially Kenny, since shortly afterward GAW is on the brink of bankruptcy and Sue-Ellen needs to pull off an extravagant fashion show at their not-so extravagant house to save the company and pay off the petty cash the younger siblings had splurged without care.
  • Dumb Blonde: Averted. Sue Ellen is an unfocused teenager, but once she sets her mind to something, she is very competent and learns quickly.
  • Eat the Dog: After the kids return home from the supermarket and only being able to afford the necessities, one of the kids jokes about using their pet dog as emergency rations.
    Melissa: When our food's gone, we can eat Elvis!
  • Everyone Has Standards: Gus is definitely a total sleazeball for his unsubtly and aggressively pursuing Sue Ellen behind Rose's back, not caring if she's (allegedly) divorced with children. But once she reveals her actual age, he abandons the effort and attempts to make up with Rose, since having sex with an underaged girl is never a good idea.
  • Fiction Business Savvy: The new fashion designs did not look cool in the 1990s or in the world of fashion.
  • Flipping the Bird: Melissa does this to Mrs. Sturak as she leaves her room after she forces her to put on a dress and act like a girl.
  • Free-Range Children: Subverted since Sue Ellen is almost 18 and pretending to be 27. Played straight with everyone else.
  • Genre Blindness: Carolyn completely failed to realize that the receptionist position opened at GAW so she could get promoted under Rose. The exact job Sue Ellen ended up getting.
  • Gilligan Cut: After Sue Ellen agrees to find a job to help support the family, she says she can easily get one at a clothing store. Cut to the next scene where she's working at Clown Dog.
    • Earlier in the film, we see this trope implied when, after Sue Ellen tells her mom that everything will be great when she's gone, it immediately cuts to Mrs. Sturak's car pulling up at the Crandell's house, followed by said babysitter stepping out of the car.
  • Gone Horribly Right: When Carolyn tells Rose that Sue Ellen had Kathy do the QED report for her, Rose compliments Sue Ellen on her delegation abilities and says Carolyn should look to her for an example.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: This is what finally convinces Sue Ellen to quit her job at Clown Dog.
  • Hard-Work Montage: When they clean up the house before the fashion show.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: Kenny after a neat haircut and newly-acquired culinary skills causes his crush Nicole to finally notice him.
  • Hidden Depths: Sue Ellen and Kenny are both quick learners once they find their proper niches as well as proper inspiration and flourish in no time.
  • Homage: A couple of nods to Alfred Hitchcock. The scene where Sue Ellen finds Sturak's body was inspired by the ending in Psycho where Lila finds the body of Mrs. Bates. The music that plays during the scene when the kids get rid of Sturak's body was inspired by Bernard Hermann's score from Pyscho.
  • Home-Early Surprise: Mrs. Crandell who cut her vacation by a week to see Sue Ellen holding a massive party, really it's an elaborate fashion show to save GAW. She was not pleased to say the least and the ruse Sue Ellen constructed over the course of summer vacation to maintain her job had come undone just like that.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Technically, Katherine doesn't work for Sue Ellen but she is perfectly happy to have Sue Ellen delegate her work to her (presumably so Sue Ellen will put in a good word for her down the line).
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Sue Ellen (17) and Rose ('40s) become close friends as the movie progresses.
  • Ironic Echo: When Sue Ellen becomes the head of the household she scolds Kenny for hiking up the electric bill by using the air conditioner, to which Kenny replies, "Why do you take these things so personal?". The same thing that Sue Ellen said to her mom at the beginning of the movie.
  • It's All About Me: The Crandells are pretty self-absorbed as they only care about having a free summer and think they don't need adult supervision. When Mrs. Sturak dies, instead of telling their mom about Mrs. Sturak's death, they drop her off at a mortuary as they're only concerned about their mom blaming them for Mrs. Sturak's death instead of her death so they can enjoy their summer.
  • Jerkass:
    • Gus, especially with how he flirts with an underage Sue Ellen and is planning to cheat on Rose behind her back.
    • Mrs. Sturak is a nastily hateful old woman who winds up becoming an Asshole Victim in short time.
    • Carolyn is a petty person that looks down on everyone despite being a secretary who is very bad at her job to the point where her boss, Rose, can't stand being around her. Her partner in crime, Bruce, is also not exactly what one would call a prince among men.
    • The Crandell siblings can be this too, especially Kenny, who spends all of his time smoking weed with his friends instead of taking care of the younger siblings like he's supposed to. Luckily for him, Character Development kicks in and he discovers his Hidden Depths.
    • Melissa even suggested they eat Elvis when they run out of food.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When Sue Ellen chews her siblings out for stealing from the petty cash, Kenny points out rather smugly that they were "just following your irresponsible example," and he is 100% correct.
    • And as Sue Ellen points out in return, taking out a couple of hundred dollars for groceries, a pair of boots and a magazine (which she intended to replace once she got her paycheck at the end of the month) doesn't really compare to wiping out what must be at least $10,000 worth of petty cash to buy a diamond pendant (for 13 year old Zach's girlfriend) and an entertainment system that takes up half the living room wall.
  • Karma Houdini: The drag queens most likely got away with stealing the Buick since Sue Ellen and her siblings didn't report it to the police, Mrs. Sturak was dead, and none of Mrs. Sturak's family (if any exists) were informed of her death. Even if they got pulled over, they could say they borrowed it since it was not reported stolen.
    • Also the kids getting away with dumping Mrs. Sturak's body at the mortuary (presumably because they accidentally left all of the money their mom left for them on her body, and the mortuary workers took it and covered up the irregularity so they could keep it).
  • Lazy Bum: Kenny and the other Crandell siblings are pretty lazy as they don't bother doing any chores around the house at first, but they soon rely on each other to get them done.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: When Sue Ellen comes home late from work, the fight she and Kenny have is a typical "harried, overworked, exhausted housewife" vs. "harried, overworked, exhausted husband" argument—with Kenny as the "wife" and Sue Ellen as the "husband".
  • Lipstick-and-Load Montage: When Sue Ellen is getting dressed for her job interview at GAW.
  • Metal Head: Kenny.
  • Never My Fault: Carolyn blames Sue Ellen for being denied a promotion and being stuck as the receptionist, yet had she been a more pleasant person to both Sue Ellen and her boss Rose she wouldn't have been stuck in her job in the first place.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: When Carolyn tells Rose that Sue Ellen had Kathy do the QED report for her, Rose compliments Sue Ellen on her delegation abilities and says Carolyn should look to her for an example.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Kenneth is his full name but we don't find that out until the end and was called Kenny throughout the film.
  • Only Sane Woman: Sue Ellen, as she is forced to be the breadwinner for the family since Mrs. Sturak stole all the money meant for the family to buy groceries and her siblings are too lazy to work.
  • Out of Focus: The younger Crandell siblings, Zach, Melissa and Walter, are not as prominent in the film as Sue Ellen and Kenny are. This is because it focuses on the two slowly taking responsibility as the breadwinner and homemaker of the family respectively.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: Mrs. Sturak dies this way.
  • Perpetual Smiler: Mr. Egg not only flashes million-watt smiles all the time but also made his employees do the same, around the clock and after working hours.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: Mrs. Sturak stumbles into Kenny's bedroom and reacts in horror at all the heavy metal posters on the walls. Amusingly, several of the graphics actually come from Dungeons & Dragons artwork. It's implied to give her a fatal heart attack that kicks off the plot.
  • Power Hair: In order to help pass as an "Executive Administrative Assistant", Sue Ellen puts her hair up in a fancy French twist.
  • Pretending to Be One's Own Relative: Sue Ellen lied to her boss and co-workers about being her own divorced mother and that her siblings are her children in order to keep any questions of her home life at minimal. This works due to the real Mrs. Crandell taking a vacation in Australia and therefore would not interfere in the plot.
  • Promotion to Parent: When the elderly babysitter unexpectedly dies, the two oldest siblings are left to manage the household. Sue Ellen has to get a job after their money runs out, while Kenny has to stay at home to take care of their three younger siblings. Sue later calls out Kenny for behaving pretty irresponsibly by ignoring his new role.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: We're supposed to side with the Crandell siblings because they don't get a free summer and that they don't tell their mother that Mrs. Sturak dies in her sleep because they're afraid she'll blame them and decide that they can fend for their own.
  • Puppy Love: Throughout the movie, Zach tries to win the heart of Cynthia, his girlfriend and "Moon Goddess", when she seems more interested in Jason. He even gave her a diamond ring with Sue-Ellen's stolen petty cash. In the end, Zach was dumped anyway but quickly move on with one of the girls from Melissa's baseball team.
  • Really 17 Years Old: Sue Ellen lies about her age and falsifies a resume in order to get a job with a clothing production company. Everyone there assumes she's in her late-20s.
  • Sadist: Melissa gleefully suggested they can eat Elvis when their food's gone.
  • Secondary Character Title: Mrs. Sturak is the babysitter in the title but she dies near the beginning of the movie and is delegated to passing mentions and a Brick Joke.
  • Smoking Is Cool: To modern eyes, the amount of smoking Sue Ellen does without any sort of comment being passed is pretty astonishing.
  • Stealing from the Till: Sue Ellen "borrows" the funds in her petty cash check to feed the family, figuring she'll pay it back when she gets her paycheck. When she does get it, she finds taxes took a lot of her pay making her unable to pay back the funds.
  • The Stoner: Kenny.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Carolyn eventually exposes Sue Ellen's deception to Rose... but instead of being impressed, Rose calls her out for thinking that backstabbing an employee who has worked her ass off to rescue the company will earn her any favor. Not to mention doing so in the middle of the huge presentation that is crucial to that rescue.
    • Also the initial situation: Carolyn is supposed to be promoted to Rose's executive administration assistant. But she's so unpleasant to be around that Rose can't stand her, and hires someone who literally walked in ten minutes before instead (without even checking her resume) so she doesn't have to spend long workdays with someone she doesn't like or get along with.
    • Sue Ellen actually doing well at her job: her resume might be a crock, but she gets along very well once she asks Kimmy for help with the technical things like the QED report. Sue Ellen learns fast (she works out the fax machine while watching Kimmy do it), and at executive levels, delegating responsibility is actually expected of you (which Carolyn doesn't figure out). Also, a great deal of what we see Sue Ellen do depends on what's now called 'soft skills' - communicating with other departments, keeping track of what other people are doing so she can keep Rose up to date, and generally getting along with people and managing them. Soft skills are actually highly sought after, especially at the executive level.
  • Team Chef: Kenny, who is charged with taking care of the younger siblings while Sue Ellen works. At first, he can't even make waffles without burning them to a crisp, but with practice (and watching a lot of cooking shows) he becomes a Supreme Chef and also discovers that he enjoys cooking. By the end of the movie, he is preparing gourmet dishes for Sue Ellen's fashion show and contemplates going to culinary school.
  • Tsundere: Kenny, of all people. In a movie full of catty women, he has the most hair-trigger mood swings out of all of them.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Bruce and Carolyn are both petty, vindictive, and slimy people. They seem perfectly happy together.
  • Unnamed Parent: We obviously know Mrs. Crandell's last name but she's always called "Mom" and Sue-Ellen uses her own name when posing as her for GAW.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Averted. Sue-Ellen has trouble getting her computer to do much of anything. It's a text-based system, and every time she presses a key, it scrolls back to the main menu. She eventually offloads her computer-based work to an overlooked employee in another department.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Mrs. Sturak's body and the money is finally answered right before the credits. She was given a nice burial by the mortuary workers who found the money and spent it in Vegas. Her tombstone reads the same as the note the kids left with her - "Nice Old Lady Inside. Died of Natural Causes."
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Carolyn, the GAW employee, still having a job. Even before Sue Ellen shows up, she is shown being very rude and condescending on the phone. It may have been a personal call, but when Sue Ellen simply asks for directions, Carolyn bites her head off. Rose can't even stand Carolyn, and in the real world, she would have been fired after the first (maybe second) time she spoke to someone like that. More baffling is the fact that she was supposed to get a promotion despite the fact that she both had horrible customer service skills and treated everybody around her like shit (Obviously a Pointy-Haired Boss in training).
  • Women Are Wiser: Sue Ellen is the most responsible of the Crandell siblings over her three brothers and Tomboy sister especially since she's the one to hold down a job and provide the finances to feed the siblings over the summer.
  • Woman Scorned: Carolyn, who seems like a top-grade bitch even before Sue Ellen takes the job she was after. She sets out to destroy Sue Ellen's prospects at GAW.
  • Zany Scheme: The whole movie ends up culminating on this with Sue Ellen needing to come up with a fashion show on a very bare bones budget after her younger siblings wind up blowing through the cash she needs.