The Nanny Diaries (2007) dir. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Starring: Scarlett Johanson, Laura Linney, Chris Evans, Alicia Keys, Paul Giamatti
From the team who brought you "American Splendor" has unfortunately also brought you the “The Nanny Diaries” - new to DVD this week. These two films couldn’t be more divergent. While “American Splendor” was creative, clever and inspired, “The Nanny Diaries” is uninspired, bland and derivative and a shameless retread of “The Devil Wears Prada”. And my wife tells me the book wasn't even that good, so why make a movie about it?
Scarlett Johanson plays Annie Braddock, a recent university graduate who is feeling the pressure of jumping into the working world. With a business degree and a minor in anthropology Braddock is a smart gal who narrates her story with intellectual self-awareness. But instead of following her passion for science she attempts to make it in business. Her first interview is a disaster. In the aftermath, fate lands in her lap when she rescues a young boy from being hit by a speedy bicyclist in Central Park. The boy’s mother Mrs. X (Laura Linney) when introduced to Annie, mistakes her name as “Nanny” and offers her a job as the Nanny for her boy, Grayer (a ridiculous name).
Annie goes with the flow and becomes a fulltime Nanny. The pay is good, but her life soon becomes consumed by the idiosyncratic whims of her upper class twit mother. Annie is ashamed by her job and hides it from her disapproving mother. Her best friend Lynette (Alicia Keys) is caught in the act of deception as well, and as a result steadily loses her friendship. Annie’s only solace is her burgeoning faux-parentship with Grayer and a new relationship with the “Harvard Hottie” in her building (Chris Evans). Eventually the building blocks of deception will come crashing down on Annie’s head. But of course she survives and lives happily ever after.
I guess the hook of this film is to get Laura Linney do her take on the Miranda Priestly character from “The Devil Wears Prada”. I assumed Annie would be subject to a series of ridiculous tasks and demeaning errands. Indeed Annie slaves herself to Mrs. X and she becomes depressed very quickly. But there’s a fundamental problem with this scenario. In “The Devil Wears Prada” Anne Hathaway’s character took the job because she felt it was a step up in her career – a sacrifice everyone has to make in the fashion business. Therefore there was an end goal. But with “Nanny Dairies” I could not figure out why she would take the job. Perhaps it’s fear of moving forward in one’s career, which indeed is hinted at with the interview scene. But it was only one interview which she walks out on. Annie never even tries anthropology. Does Annie do it for the money? I don’t think so. We never see her revel in the new cash. In fact, Annie is given a pathetic guest room to stay in Mrs. X’s building. So there are no perks or benefits for Annie to weigh against her depressing job.
Two great actors are wasted with underrealized characters. Laura Linney has nothing to work with, and is continually straining to make something of her character. Paul Giamatti sporting a ridiculous red hair-dye job is given the clichéd cardboard cut out of a husband to Mrs. X. His identity is hidden from us conspicuously by newspapers and doors for his first few appearances on screen. I thought this would be a running gag – that we never get to see Mr. X. But sadly they do reveal Paul Giamatti as the husband, but unfortunately the reveal amounts to nothing. Mr. X. is your typical reprehensible alpha male shit who sleeps around, emotionally abuses his wife and is absent in raising his boy. They could have gotten Billy Zane for a quarter of the price.
Berman and Pulcini’s only saving grace is their clever use of the anthropology metaphors. At the beginning we see Annie moving through a natural history museum deconstructing the various personalities we will see in the film. For example we see Laura Linney as a wax figure in the display entitled – ‘the socialite’. But by the end I realized they were just stealing this voiceover/metaphor technique from a superior source – “Sex and the City”.
Since this is their first dramatic feature since “American Splendor” I hope they got paid well, because this film will not further their careers. Leave the pulpy summer beach novels for Garry Marshall. Harvey Pekar would certainly not approve.