The Nanny Diaries
Rated PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti, Alicia Keys, Nicholas Art, Donna Murphy, Chris Evans, Nathan Corddry, Judith Roberts.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 24, 2007
An awful lot of good talent has been squandered in this by-the-numbers film version of the bestselling tell-all about the lifestyles and child-rearing habits of the rich residents of New York's Upper East Side. Last time out, co-writers and directors Springer Berman and Pulcini scored an artistic success with American Splendor, their film adaptation of Harvey Pekar's surly yet touching comic books about quotidian life in America. Their rendition of The Nanny Diaries, however, is flat-footed and tiresome, hitting the same notes over and over while tossing in an unnecessary romance and an acting performance by the musician Alicia Keys in a failed attempt to keep things spicy. Johansson and Linney are both excellent in the leads, as the college grad who takes a job as a nanny and the socialite/trophy wife whose self-obsession has no bounds. Linney, in particular, is at the top of her game here, with every inflection of her line delivery as perfect as her tasteful coif and grooming. Despite these well-shaped depictions (including that of American Splendor's Giamatti as the largely absent dad and husband), the film lacks any real bite or sass. It's hard to empathize with Annie Braddock (Johansson), a new college grad who's so daunted by the brightness of her future that she decides to downgrade her plans and accept a live-in nanny gig that Mrs. X (Linney) improbably offers to her when their paths cross in Central Park. Mrs. X is as stereotypically snooty as her son, Grayer (Art), is bratty – but of course, that's only until Annie (whose name everyone, in one of the film's running jokes, mistakes as Nanny) tames his overprivileged and underloved spirit. The same points are reiterated a number of times, though little evolves or changes. That's where the comments of a best friend (Keys) and mom (Murphy) help to fill out the story, as well as a coy romance with a guy (Evans) in an apartment upstairs. Annie's desire to become an anthropologist instead of the business exec she was schooled to become causes her to view everything she witnesses on the Upper East Side as a Museum of Natural History diorama. It's an effective device, although it seems somewhat similar to the ways in which the filmmakers handled the comic-books-to-real-life transitions in American Splendor. With all these spoons full of sugar, where's Mary Poppins when you need her?