Like Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus' best-selling Nanny Diaries was a dishy, tell-all roman a clef/expose of the spiritually barren underbelly of the rich and glamorous as seen from the high ground of a well-educated and morally superior underling. And like the film adaptation of Weisberger's book, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's movie hinges on a remarkable central performance, not by the protagonist, in this case a college grad who accidentally winds up a Manhattan nanny, but by the super-wealthy harridan for whom she works.
With a degree in economics from Montclair University, 21-year-old New Jersey native Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) is ready to take on the world of high finance, not because she wants to, but because she feels an obligation to her hardworking single mother, Judy (Donna Murphy). Annie's real love is the fascinating but hardly lucrative field of anthropology, and she tends to see the world from the viewpoint of a cultural observer (imaginatively visualized in an opening sequence set among the dioramas of New York City's Museum of Natural History). But Annie's plans to one day become the CFO of a large financial institution are derailed when she chokes on a simple question during an interview at Goldman Sachs: "Who is Annie Braddock?" Unable to say exactly who she is or what she really wants out of life, Annie winds up in Central Park contemplating her future as a bag lady when, after snatching a young boy from the path of an oncoming Segway, she meets his immaculately dressed and perfectly coiffed mother, Mrs. X (Laura Linney) true to her scientific outlook, Annie never reveals the real names of her anthropological subjects who offers her a job Annie has never even considered: a full-time, live-in nanny. Her charge is precocious preschooler Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art), who, left alone with his hapless mother, nearly wound up roadkill. Annie weighs her options: She could move to Manhattan and treat the whole experience as an academic study of the lives and habits of New York's ultrarich, but she could never tell her mother that all those extra nursing shifts went toward an unpromising career as a child-care worker. Nevertheless, she takes the job, lies to her mother and moves into Mrs. X's posh Upper East Side apartment. And then the nightmare begins. Grayer hates her and Mrs. X turns out to be a perfect storm of snobbery, unhappiness and deep neurosis, with a host of prohibitions and demands that are more suited to the job description for "slave" than "nanny." Married to a cruel, adulterous ass (Paul Giamatti) who treats her with open contempt, Mrs. X spends her time arranging benefits and attending meetings of like-minded hands-off mommies who also gripe about their nannies. Annie's friend Lynette (pop soul star Alicia Keys) tells Annie she should quit, but leaving Grayer isn't easy, since, thanks to his mother, he has already been abandoned by a series of nannies. Nor is it easy leaving Mrs. X, with whom Annie has begun to sympathize: The good-looking guy from the 12th floor (Chris Evans) calls it Stockholm syndrome. Annie, ever the anthropologist, calls it "going native."
Berman and Pulcini, who turned Harvey Pekar's graphic memoir into the visually inventive, Oscar-nominated AMERICAN SPLENDOR (2003), dress this film as an anthropological field diary and add several fabulous touches: The early scene in which the Travelers insurance company's trademark red umbrella swoops down from its skyscraper aerie to carry Annie off to the rarefied world of upper Fifth Avenue a la Mary Poppins is downright inspired. But the movie belongs to Linney, who brings a full-blooded dimension to what could have been a misogynistic cutout. Holding one's own opposite her is no mean feat, but Johansson acquits herself well, turning in an impressive performance on the heels of a string of duds.
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- Released: 2007
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Like Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus' best-selling Nanny Diaries was a dishy, tell-all roman a clef/expose of the spiritually barren underbelly of the rich and glamorous as seen from the high ground of a well-edu… (more)