Movie review by Greg Carlson
Dozens of reviews of “The Nanny Diaries” have compared the movie to the much stronger “The Devil Wears Prada,” and it is easy to see why. Both films are adapted from popular books and both stories deal with wide-eyed young women attempting to negotiate the impossibly airtight worlds of ultra-wealthy New Yorkers. Additionally, both film versions follow a predictable trajectory in which the central character discovers self-reliance after putting up with cartoonishly grotesque abuse and humiliation from a so-called superior. Much more uneven than “The Devil Wears Prada,” however, “The Nanny Diaries” will be forgotten quickly.
At the outset, it might appear to savvy viewers that “American Splendor” co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini will be an asset to the proceedings, transporting their sharp observational skills to the Upper East Side from the vivid Cleveland depicted in their brilliant Harvey Pekar biopic. Several unusual touches, from the incorporation of clever anthropological dioramas to a Mary Poppins-esque umbrella ride above the city, occasionally alleviate the tedium arising from the movie’s toothless satire. The filmmakers, who also crafted the script based on the book by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, make the mistake of trading character for caricature, resulting in a sloppy, dull slog of a show.
Scarlett Johansson plays Annie Braddock, a recent college grad who would much rather pursue behavioral field studies than business. She literally stumbles into a gig as the nanny of a wealthy family, hiding the nature of her job from her hardworking nurse mom. Echoing “The Devil Wears Prada” again, the central conflict revolves around the impossible demands of a seemingly demonic boss. Laura Linney plays Mrs. X, a neurotic, self-centered, spoiled wife of a piggish, unfaithful, and distant husband (Paul Giamatti). The talented thespian digs deep in order to find some shred of sympathy for Mrs. X, but the tone of the movie is discombobulated and inconsistent.
“The Nanny Diaries” might have had something insightful to say about parenting, the class divide, and immigration, but its predictable, feel good conclusion only serves as a reminder that sights were set too low. Annie’s relationship with Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans), superficially intensified by the fact that he comes from privilege and she from the working class, proves another missed opportunity. Despite some mostly playful sparring and a directive from Mrs. X that Annie not be allowed to fraternize with anyone in the building, the partnership between the young lovers is smooth sailing all the way.
The movie’s critical relationship exists between Annie and her young charge Grayer X (Nicholas Reese Art). Transforming almost instantly from a devilish brat into a fawning angel, Grayer stirs Annie’s sympathies because he is a pawn in the battle between Mr. and Mrs. X. Naturally, the little boy becomes emotionally attached to his nanny, creating an impossible situation that can only end sadly. The movie plays more like a television pilot than a feature with an A-list cast. Without the prospect of a continuing storyline, however, details need to be meaty and satisfying in short order, which is something “The Nanny Diaries” does not offer.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/27/07.