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The Nanny Diaries (A Movie Review)

The Nanny Diaries


Starring Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Alicia Keys, Chris Evans, Donna Murphy, Paul Giamatti, Nicholas Art, John Henry Cox, Nina Gabiras and Victoria Boothby.

Screenplay by Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Directed by Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The 2002 book The Nanny Diaries was the biggest chick-lit “exposé” this side of The Devil Wears Prada. Both novels were highly autobiographical looks at hard-working, beautiful-but-poor outsiders thrust into the glamorous halls of New York high society, where they fall under the seductive but soul-crushing influence of a hardened dragon lady.

The film version of The Nanny Diaries comes hard on the heels of last year’s hit version of Prada, with Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep. Like that film, the new one stars a hot young starlet (Scarlett Johansson) as the employee and a respected serious actress who sometimes slums in light comedies (Laura Linney) as the employer. This film also replicates the casting of a critical favorite actor in a clichéd supporting role (Paul Giamatti here, Stanley Tucci in Prada), a hunk-of-the-week as the man in our girl’s life (Chris Evans of Fantastic 4 here, Adrian Grenier of Entourage there) and gives our heroine a hip black girlfriend (singer Alicia Keys taking Tracie Thoms’ gig) who has a gay male roommate.

The film version of The Nanny Diaries is clearly very aware of Prada and is trying hard to replicate its charming breeziness. The film even seems to make the tribute explicit. I can’t swear to it because it was only a quick shot that was not lingered on, but it really looked like a minor character in this film was reading the novel of Prada on a Nantucket Beach.

So, with this movie courting such comparisons, I guess we should get to first things first. The Devil Wears Prada was a much better film.

Still, The Nanny Diaries is entertaining in its own light way, adding a charming sense of whimsy to the formula. Too bad it just has a more uninteresting storyline to begin with. 

Instead of a young woman working hard to make her way into the business world, The Nanny Diaries shows a girl who is too afraid to attempt to break into her chosen field of anthropology. Or, for that matter, too fearful to stand up to her mother (Donna Murphy) who wants her to go into a business career. Therefore, she takes what she assumes will be an easy, fun, romantic job as a way of treading water while she figures out how to get what she wants.

Annie literally falls into the nanny biz. She grabs a little boy out of the way of an oncoming bicyclist in Central Park, landing them on the grass. They have barely stood back up before the child’s mother offers her a job, despite the fact that they have never met before, and Annie has absolutely no experience in childcare. In the kind of unlikely logic that sadly happens too often in this film, when Annie tells the woman her name, the mother hears the word “nanny” rather than “Annie” and decides that it is fate that she work for them.

We all know where this is going. She will be treated like a servant, grow to hate the cut-off high-society snobs who hired her. At the same time, she will grow to love their adorable little moppet. Then there will be the hunky guy who tries to seduce her into the good life. Also there will be the scene where the street-smart best friend chides her for losing herself in this flashy new world.

Of course, these characters are drawn broadly – to be kind. In an odd stylistic choice many of the major characters do not even have names; they are simply known as Mr. & Mrs. X, Harvard Hottie, Miss Chicago, matriarch, etc. I know the whole strained format of the movie has Annie trying to make an anthropological study of the Upper East Side dwellers but denying them any kind of identity merely makes them cartoonish stereotypes. 

I suppose turnabout is fair play when it comes to robbing people of their identity, though, because from the second she takes the job, everyone refers to Annie as Nanny, even the little boy who idolizes her.

All of it is terribly predictable, but fun and harmless enough entertainment.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: December 1, 2007.

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