Andy Bockelman: Move over, Mary Poppins; Scarlett Johansson’s the new nanny in town
September 12, 2007
Craig — Move over, Mary Poppins. There’s a new nanny in town; Scarlett Johansson in the insightful film “The Nanny Diaries.”
College graduate Annie Braddock (Johansson) is wary about pursuing a future in high finance, even though her mother (Donna Murphy) seems to have everything figured out for her.
Terrified by the prospect of job interviews, she wonders if she should consider other means of employment. A fortuitous chance encounter in Central Park lands her a cushy job as the nanny for the wealthy X family.
Annie thinks living with the family in their luxurious Fifth Avenue apartment is too good to be true : and quickly finds out that it is. Besides sleeping in a tiny nook off the laundry room, she has to contend with the child in question, five-year-old Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art), who is a total brat. His parents are no help whatsoever; Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) is only home for minutes at a time, and Mrs. X (Laura Linney) has endless high society obligations. Annie manages to win over Grayer, but no matter how much effort she gives, Mrs. X just becomes more and more demanding, and the job that Annie thought would be easy begins to take over her life.
Johansson gives a fine performance, demonstrating just why she is one of the best actresses of her generation. Linney is great as Mrs. X, a character who would get along fabulously with Miranda Priestly of “The Devil Wears Prada.” As her husband, character actor Giamatti lends credibility to the rather cliched role of the workaholic father. Musician-turned-actress Alicia Keys is acceptable if not amazing as Annie’s friend Lynette, who finds her gal pal’s career choice to be a big mistake, and reminds her about it every chance she gets.
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Told from Annie’s standpoint as a striving anthropologist, the movie dives head-first into the topic of child care. As she narrates, she frequently slips into daydreams and usually imagines herself observing museum displays of families of the Upper East Side. This device is interesting at first, but starts to become tiresome before long. Besides that, most of the nonvisual narration is completely redundant. It is quickly established that she is narrating the story as if it were a case study, hence the family’s name “X,” and the additional anonymous character “Harvard Hottie” (Chris Evans), a college student who lives in the apartment building and falls for Annie. After setting up this premise, Johansson’s voice-overs are just unnecessary. Another bothersome matter is the fact that Annie is almost never referred to by name and the X’s neglect of their son is downright startling, and it only gets heavier. The most irritating problem is the handling of Mr. X. Giamatti does a fine job, but whereas the other characters are real people with authentic motivations, Mr. X is completely one-dimensional, going from a dad who tries to balance work and family to a truly loathsome person.
Even with these flaws, however, “The Nanny Diaries” is still pleasant and unexpectedly convincing about the plight of nannies and the kids for whom they care. It is a comedy, but while watching try not to feel too despondent, because it becomes stingingly blunt at times. Now playing at the West Theater.