The Nanny Diaries (2007) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language
Running time: 105 min.

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Nicholas Reese Art, Chris Evans, Paul Giamatti, Alicia Keys, Donna Murphy
Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Screenplay: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini (based on the novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus)

Review published December 5, 2007

The Nanny Diaries gets its inspiration from the book of the same name by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, two women who worked as nannies themselves. It comes off like a far less entertaining version of The Devil Wears Prada mixed with a slightly better version of Uptown Girls -- but not by much.  If it's held together at all, it's just barely cohesive, as this soul-searching comedy-drama tries to have us relate to the plight of the heroine and her trouble adjusting to the strange environs of the snobby upper class.  Sorry, but if the most distraught period of your life is having to work for a demanding boss who sets weird, impossible tasks, you just haven't worked enough -- they are everywhere. 

The film casts Scarlett Johansson (The Prestige, The Black Dahlia) as Annie Braddock, out of college, out of a job, and so desperate for money that she accepts a gig as a nanny for a well-to-do family in ritzy Manhattan.  For the purposes of seeming like writings in a diary, the names are kept mostly anonymous, with the married unit simply called Mr. (Giamatti, Shoot Em Up) and Mrs. X (Linney, Breach).  The couple isn't getting along these days, as he is philandering and she is bitchy and self-absorbed, while their young son, Grayer (Art, Syriana), is mostly ignored by both.  Grayer's daily routine is very strict and not fun at all, but when he's alone with Annie, the two form a bond that allows them to come to care for one another, although the X's are probably not going to be happy with the kinds of things she teaches him. 

The Nanny Diaries falls into predictable patterns early and rarely deviates in any of them enough to form itself into a pleasant surprise.  You know that eventually Annie will bond with the bratty child, melt the icy exterior of Mrs. X, get hit on by Mr. X, and get her main squeeze in the hunky Harvard Hottie (Evans, FF2), a man in her building whose main goal in life seems to be the pursuit of her.

One of the more surprising things about the casting is not that they were able to get such a good cast to appear in such a bad film, but that they would not cast names who would lend better to these kinds of roles.  Scarlett Johansson, who has played well in weird comedies like Lost in Translation and Scoop is just not right for this kind of innocent dreamer girl-next-door role.  The same goes for the dimpled Laura Linney as the shrewish mother.  Contrast both actresses to the turns of Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep in the aforementioned Devil Wears Prada and you can see just how deficient they are in effecting the proper personality.  Johansson comes off as dysfunctional and pathetic, as we wonder how anyone so smart and independent would willingly subject herself to verbal abuse constantly.  Linney also comes off too strong to play the long-suffering wife, and isn't domineering enough to really be a fearsome employer.  Despite her erratic behavior, I doubt it would take much to get on her good side.

The entire crux of the film is supposed to be about one confused young woman's ability to find happiness amid trying circumstances and grow up a little.  I say that only because there is no plot at all otherwise.  Silly side developments like the awkward romance, Annie's fibbing to her disapproving mother, her inability to maintain strong ties with the friends she's left behind, and Mrs. X's constant ploys to get her husband to stay with her are just a few of the many events that clutter up the screen time, without any real point except to show how "hard" life is. 

Perhaps as a send-up of Manhattanites and the vacuous state of their existence, The Nanny Diaries might have had the juice to be a winning satire.  While it definitely paints a bleak picture of bitchy housewives and bad fathers who don't have time for their own kids, or each other, the effect of all of this ill spirit completely undermines the light romance and snarky comedy that writer-directors Berman and Pulcini (American Splendor) strive for most of the time.  There's not much joy one can feel for any of these people, and the only thing we wonder is why they aren't all seeking therapy for their constant unhappiness and frustration.  In one scene, Mrs. X hires an outside consultant to come in and see what's wrong with how her nanny is doing things, but she is never shown as consulting anyone else for the bigger problems in her life, especially her marriage in a shambles.

I really am at a loss as to just who to recommend the film to, although there must be an audience out there that would enjoy it, as the reviews and user ratings I've seen indicate that some people think it entertaining.  Not me. I find it to be almost intolerable in its delivery, its disappointing casting, and its ridiculous attempt to derive some sort of emotional meaning for its tissue paper-thin characters.  After such a detestable depiction of the life of rich penthouse dwellers, is it really a happy ending for a wishy-washy commoner to end up with one in the end?  Then again, who cares?  By this point, the movie could go anywhere it wanted, so whether she ends up happy, sad, or in between is of little importance.  Just be glad the movie's over and move on.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo