Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini's THE NANNY DIARIES **1/2

I had no expectations before I entered the theater to see THE NANNY DIARIES, the new film from husband/wife directing team Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini. It’s based on a chick-lit novel I’ve never read, and other than what the average looking trailers had suggested, I expected nothing much from the film. To my pleasant surprise, THE NANNY DIARIES is a fun little piffle of a film, the sort of film that makes you smile and occasionally laugh, and then evaporates once you’ve left the theater. It’s somewhat of a disappointment that the directors of the under-seen masterpiece AMERICAN SPLENDOR didn’t do more with THE NANNY DIARIES, but in the end, it’s an enjoyable, easy-going dramedy that hits some terrific satirical notes along the way.

Scarlett Johansson, looking more comfortable here than she has in a while on screen (her best work is still LOST IN TRANSLATION), is Annie, or, as her demanding boss Mrs. X (the always perfect Laura Linney) dubs her, simply, “Nanny.” Annie has recently graduated from college and is unsure of what she wants to do with her life. She’s in Central Park when a little tyke bumps into her. The child’s mother, Mrs. X, played with delicious zest by Linney, immediately sparks to Annie, and tells her to call her for an interview as she’s looking for a new nanny for her son, Grayer. Feeling she has nothing to lose, Annie moves into the posh upper-East side apartment of Mrs. X and Mr. X, played by the steely Paul Giamatti, in an uncharacteristically mean performance. Annie develops a bond with Grayer, and makes a promise that she’ll never leave him (she knows she’ll end up breaking this promise). Annie also meets the “Harvard Hottie”, a guy living in the same building as The X’s, who is all chiseled forearms and sculpted jaw-line (Chris Evans is the obligatory hunk). How will Annie learn to juggle her nanny-life with her love life, while also trying to please her single-mom, who still doesn’t know that she’s taken the nanny job to begin with?

Things play out in a completely predictable fashion. But I was never bored and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t happy to see Annie get through all of the problems she encounters. Johansson has always been easy on the eyes, but of late, saddled in period films like THE BLACK DAHLIA (terrible film) and THE PRESTIGE (phenomenal film), she’s seemed totally out of her element. Here, she strikes just the right balance of naiveté and confidence. But it’s Linney that steals the entire show. In a role similar to that of Meryl Streep’s in the incredibly overrated THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (both films share their own number of similarities), Linney goes from happy to angry to sad to resentful to depressed to ebullient in a moment’s notice; it’s an acting clinic. She gives Mrs. X a mean and tough surface, while still managing to convey some love for her little kid, no matter how cavalier she seems. Though he doesn’t have much to do (which is sort of the point), Giamatti delivers an icily funny performance as the absentee father and husband, who’d rather fool around with his secretary than spend time with his family.

The Nanny Diaries isn’t incredible but it isn’t bad either. It has moments of excellence when it tears apart the high-life of Manhattan’s upper crust, and it enjoys a few flights of stylistic fancy when Annie takes surreal, day-dreaming umbrella rides over Manhattan in order to escape her immediate surroundings. The film always looks nice, thanks to the simple yet stylish camerawork of Terry Stacey (IN HER SHOES, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, FRIENDS WITH MONEY) and the musical score is appropriately bubbly. And all of the bits set inside the Museum of Natural History are genuinely clever and funny. But had Berman and Pulcini really gone for the jugular, the satirical moments might have been more prevalent and hard-hitting. They want to have fun with the movie, while also taking some societal jabs at the rich, and as a result, the tone of the film shifts too much. For what it is, THE NANNY DIARIES works perfectly fine and will satisfy anyone looking for a night of undemanding entertainment. It could have been more, but what we’re given is good enough.

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