Baby-Sitters Club, The: Directed by Melanie Mayron

A movie based on the phenomenally successful book series, The Baby-Sitters Club, which sold more than 125 million copies, is bound to be successful; the girls in the book are probably the most famous group of baby-sitters in the world.

The new film tells the story of one pivotal summer in the lives of seven special girls growing up in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. “It’s a pivotal year in their lives and they decide that this summer they would really like to make an effort and stay together,” says producer Jane Startz. “Kristy comes up with the idea of forming a summer camp, and that’s the frame of the story.”

The tale revolves around the emotional upheavals that these girls go through during one crucial summer. There are pressures from nasty peers, from boyfriends and from clashes within their own families. With most of the girls turning thirteen and the summer upon them, they devise a brilliant plan to make some money, keep their remarkable friendships intact–and at the same time have some fun. However, with new boyfriends showing up and rival girls threatening to break up their unity, the very fabric of their long-standing friendships is put to test.

This chapter uses the personal dilemmas of two girls, as well as the trials and tribulations of the group, to illustrate the larger theme of friendship. There are two main stories in the film. One is about Kristy, whose biological father, whom she hasn’t seen since she was six, suddenly comes back into her life. The second story is about Stacey, who goes out with a 17 year-old boy, but doesn’t tell him her age–or that she has diabetes.

“The film is about the tests that we all have in relationships with our dearest friends,” says director Melanie Mayron, the former star of the hit TV show thirtysomething and director of the TV movie Freaky Friday, who makes her feature directorial debut with this film. “The focus of the piece is about honesty and integrity, how when we start to lie and weave this web, it just keeps getting deeper and deeper.”

Each girl rises to the challenge in her own way. By the summer’s end, they discover their friendships have not only survived, but have also thrived and flourished. They not only get through their difficulties but emerge stronger and in a better place emotionally.

Schuyler Fisk, daughter of noted actress Sissy Spacek and art director Jack Fisk, makes her film debut as Kristy, founder and leader of the Baby-Sitters Club. “Kristy is a tomboy who loves sports; in fact, she coaches a little kids’ baseball team called ‘Kristy’s Crushers,'” says the 13-year-old Virginia native. “Her parents are divorced, but her dad comes back and says he’s going to try and get a job and move back, but he asks her not to tell anyone he’s back, especially not her mother” (played by Brooke Adams). To spend some time with her father, Kristy misses a lot of Baby-Sitters Club meetings–and has to lie to her friends.

Says director Mayron: “Kristy’s summer is spent withholding this secret. She tells her best friend Mary Anne, but Mary Anne can’t tell anyone. Kristy’s secret comes between her and her mom, her step-dad, and it comes between her and her friends, who love her. Kristy’s story shows what lies can do to people’s lives.”

“I don’t think Patrick means to be a bad dad,” explains thirtysomething alumnus Peter Horton, who plays Patrick, Kristy’s wayward dad. “In fact, he tries his best to be a good father, his effort is noble. He’s spent the past five years trying to get his life together so that he could come back into her life and feel proud of himself. He comes back and tries to be a real father to her, but in the end he can’t hack that either.”

The second major dilemma in the film revolves around Stacey, the club’s treasurer, played by Bre Blair. “Stacey is prim and proper and very fashionable, says the Los Angeles native. Her dad is from New York, so she’s always dressing up. She looks older than she is and wants to be sophisticated, and that’s how she gets into trouble.” Stacey is one of the most popular members of the baby-sitters Club. When she meets an older guy (the cousin of one of the kids she baby-sits), she doesn’t offer to tell her age, no does she tell him that she has diabetes, because she wants him to think she’s perfect. Of course, he finds out and they have to deal with that together.

The movie conveys the importance of friendship, the joy of genuine camaraderie. Tricia Joe plays Claudia, who holds club meetings in her room. “Claudia is an artist and not very good at science,” says Tricia. “But if she doesn’t pass science, her parents are going to make her quit the Baby-sitters club, leaving her friends without a meeting place.”

When the time comes for Claudia to get ready for her final science exam, the whole gang helps her study for her test. But realizing they need to find a new meeting place, in case Claudia fails, the girls find this old greenhouse which they have to get permission from the town to work on and convert into a club house.

Another major theme in the film comes with the introduction of Mrs. Haberman, played by Oscar-winning actress Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore). Producer Peter O. Almond describes this character as “a mysterious neighbor whose backyard is adjacent to the kids’ camp.” Since the camp inevitably creates a lot of chaos and a lot of noise around the peaceful environment of Mrs. Haberman, she has to threaten the girls with closing the camp down because of disturbance. Dawn volunteers to go over and talk to Mrs. Haberman.

It turns out that they both have in common a real love of nature and respect for the earth. And once they actually sit down and have a conversation, it’s very clears that age isn’t a factor. Experience isn’t a factor. This woman has a tremendous amount of knowledge to offer to the children. At the end, there is a very touching reconciliation between the girls and Mrs. Haberman, where the richness of her life as a photo-journalist becomes a meaningful connection for the girls.

Zelda Harris plays Jessi, associate member of the group, who aspires to be a ballet dancer. “Jessi really wants to be a ballerina and she’s in advanced class right now,” says the native New Yorker, veteran of Spike Lee’s l994 Crooklyn and numerous TV appearances. “She’s the one who wants to make sure the camp is nice and safe.”

The adventures of these seven girls come to include two boys who become honorary members of the Baby-Sitters Club: Austin O’Brien as Logan, Mary Anne’s boyfriend, and Aaron Metchik as Alan. Another young man, Christian Oliver, plays Luka, Stacey’s 17-year old suitor.

“I think 13 is a very special age because your friendships are very intense,” says producer Startz. “It’s a real growth period and feelings are very strong. These seven girls are all very different and they come together and really take care of each other, like a surrogate family in the best sense.” They help each other through a lot of those difficult life passages. And they manage to survive this summer in which everything is breaking loose.

Adds Almond: “I love the themes that this particular story delves into. What I think Ann martin has achieved in her novels and what we’ve tried to achieve with the film is the importance of closeness among a group of kids as they make this transition into the outer world of emotional attachments and intimate relationships.”

“Being a kid is being a kid,” director Mayron concludes, “whether you’re from Holland or Sweden or Connecticut. And crossing the bridge from being a kid to being a grown-up is what this film’s about, when you’re not quite there but you sure aren’t little anymore.”