The Nanny Diaries

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Mary Poppins Arrives to NYC and Ends up in a Bad Sitcom

Aug 25, 2007
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: OK

  • Bang For The Buck

Pros:Cinematography, Light-Hearted Tone, Costumes, Soundtrack, Keys, & Linney.

Cons:Messy Script, Contrived Plot-Lines, Several Scenes, Editing, & a Miscast Johansson.

The Bottom Line: The Nanny Diaries, despite its entertainment value and Laura Linney, is a major disappoinment from the directing team of Pulcini/Berman & star Scarlett Johansson. (2.5 out of 5)

With the success of 2006's film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Emily Blunt. It's becoming clear that stories about high-society New York City and its impact on outsiders, notably young women, were a hit. While The Devil Wears Prada was a satire of sorts of the world of fashion, a book called The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus was an observation of high-society New York City from the perspective of nannies. The 2002 book was a huge success due to its dark stories and subversive humor as it was suddenly optioned into a film. Taking on this project are the husband-and-wife duo of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman whose 2003 feature-film debut American Splendor about comic-book writer Harvey Pekar was a surprise hit.

Adapted into script and directed by Pulcini and Berman, The Nanny Diaries tells the story of a college graduate who moves to New York City hoping to start a new life. When she puts an ad into being a nanny, she is suddenly the new nanny of a high-society couple and their four-year old son. Yet, with the newfound pressures on her life plus a budding love interest, she learns about the world that she is in. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Chris Evans, Alicia Keys, Donna Murphy, Nicholas Art, and American Splendor star Paul Giamatti. The Nanny Diaries, despite its interesting take on New York City high society, is a film that ends up being an average Hollywood fare.

After graduating from college, Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) is trying to figure out her next move. While her nurse mother Judy (Donna Murphy) hopes she takes a career in finance rather than Annie's desire career in anthropology, Annie reluctantly takes her mother's advice. After a failed interview for a finance job, Annie tries to figure out what to do when chance happens as she saves a boy named Grayer (Nicholas Art) from a possible run-in with a biker. Grayer's mother Mrs. X (Laura Linney) saw what Annie did and asked if she was a nanny. Annie reluctantly said yes as she finds herself becoming a possible nanny for New York City high society mothers. She takes the job for Mrs. X while lying to her mother that she got a trainee job.

Accompanying her to New York City is Annie's best friend Lynette (Alicia Keys) who lives in the city as psychology major and with a boyfriend. She knows what Annie is doing and is hoping that she's careful. Annie learns that being a nanny to a spoiled little boy from Fifth Avenue isn’t all that its cracked up to be. Realizing that Grayer has to learn French, eat organic foods, and all things that are posh, Annie is faced with culture clash. Even worse is that she’s caught the attention of a young known as Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans) through comic means with the involvement of Grayer. Annie observes her new world as she would rarely see an appearance from Mr. X (Paul Giamatti).

Hoping to break some rules in how to take care of Grayer, Annie shows him a different world that isn't the posh life but is also having to face the facts that she won't have another life while having to be surrounded by other nannies. Learning that Mr. X prefers to spend more time philandering and doing business meetings rather than seeing his kid, Annie also sees that Mrs. X is too accustomed to her own lifestyle. During a night with Lynette, she meets up with Harvard Hottie as she reluctantly evades his courting. Despite her time with Grayer, Annie's life is suddenly troubled as she is constantly lying to her mother, dealing with the X's crumbling marriage, and trying to find time to be with Harvard Hottie. When Mrs. X decides to go out for a few days, things get tense as Annie is forced to make calls she wouldn't normally make while talking with Harvard Hottie about her job.

Wanting to quit, she sees the marriage of the X's crumble even more while questioning her role with Grayer and how he's going to be raised. Even after she learned about Harvard Hottie's own background as she sees what Mrs. X tried to do to save her marriage. Instead, things get worse where eventually, Annie decides to confront her fears including the lifestyle of Mrs. X and her concern for Grayer.

While a film like The Nanny Diaries might have some similarities of The Devil Wears Prada in terms of its exploration of a New York City scene. The approach of The Nanny Diaries in exploring nannies in NYC high society is interesting by using something as anthropology to satirize the idea of what kind of people New Yorkers are depending on their scene and such. Despite this take that the husband-and-wife team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman make, the film ends up falling into the formulaic style of most Hollywood comedies. While The Devil Wears Prada managed to work in both being entertaining and observant. Pulcini and Berman doesn't actually succeed in what they tried to do.

The film's comedy is not well-handled. It's often contrived while some of the stuff that's meant to be funny doesn't do well while its take on light-hearted humor and style ends up making the film as something average. Even the development of the characters like Annie, Mrs. X, and Grayer don't mesh very well as they end up falling into the film's contrived plot.

Even when the film goes into some dramatic territory, it doesn't feel earned in some ways. Especially for the film's protagonist Annie. Annie in some scenes is interesting but when she's in some kind of funny or a real dramatic situation, it feels manipulative. The script’s flaws really do hurt the film in some ways despite some moments and characterization that are handled very well. Annie, despite her own problems, is a sympathetic character as is Grayer and in some ways, Mrs. X.

The direction of Pulcini and Berman works on some parts of the film, notably the references to Mary Poppins with the umbrella and its own unique take on anthropology. Yet, the whole film ends up failing in some ways due to its lackluster, messy script. Even some of the voice-over narration tends to be overbearing somewhat where it makes the film feel pedestrian to the point that there's a funny scene, there's a relaxing scene, there's something dramatic, and there's something funny and so on.

Another problem with the film is the references it seems to take towards its star, Scarlett Johansson. The narrative seems to be a reference to the film Manny & Lo while they mention a nanny named Birdy (a reference to The Man Who Wasn't There), a nickname known as SpongeBob and her own situations that reference her work with Woody Allen and the film Girl with a Pearl Earring. It doesn't work. The audience obviously don't get the jokes while the film's ending tends to end up feeling Hollywood and such.

Cinematographer Terry Stacey does some fine work with the anthropology sequences including several wonderful shots of NYC and the Hamptons that are nice to watch. Production designer Mark Ricker and art director Ben Barraud create a wonderful, unique look that is high society New York City with its old-school furniture and such including the more artsy look that Lynette lives in. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson manages to bring great work in the clothes that Laura Linney wears that show her lifestyle and such. Serving as editor, director Robert Pulcini manages to make the film well-paced but the approach in the direction doesn't work while a sequence that uses a jump-cut ends up making the entire scene manipulative. Visual effects supervisor Harry Dorrington does some excellent work with the idea of the umbrellas while sound editor Nicholas Renbeck does some fine work with the atmosphere that is New York City.

Music composer Mark Suozzo does some nice work with the film's bouncy, orchestral score with some of the film's funnier scenes while the dramatic stuff doesn't seem to work. The soundtrack is filled with some cuts by Lily Allen, George Michael, and some 70s disco music that is just served as background music. Yet, those songs are used wisely.

The film's cast features some small and somewhat memorable roles from Matilda Downey, Elle de Amor, and Heather Simms as nannies, Julie White as a society lady, Judith Roberts as Mr. X's drunken mom, and an unnecessary cameo from Playboy Playmate Brande Roderick as a mother. American Splendor actor James Urbaniak makes a funny appearance as an educational counselor. Donna Murphy is good in her role as Judy Braddock who hopes for the best from her daughter only to realize that her daughter's life is her own. Alicia Keys manages to give an excellent, fun performance as Lynette with her easy-going lifestyle and her part in trying to ground Annie. The only negative about Keys is that she's not in the film as much. Neither is Paul Giamatti, who unfortunately, is wasted in this film. Giamatti is a great actor, especially from his role in American Splendor. Instead, Giamatti ends up being a caricature of a philandering, neglectful husband who just acts like a total jerk and never rises above its material. It's a very disappointing performance from the actor who can do so much more.

Chris Evans is decent in his role as the Harvard Hottie as he proves that he's more than just the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four movies. Evans is more laid-back and realistic in his role as a love interest while also showing some charm and manage to have some nice scenes with Johansson. Nicholas Art is really good as Grayer though his development from spoiled brat to a kid yearning for attention doesn't work. Art manages to be funny and sympathetic at times, especially in some dramatic moments where he proves to be a capable actor.

The film's best performance easily goes to Laura Linney as Mrs. X. Linney manages to be funny as this pampered, culturally-sophisticated woman who thinks she knows what she’s doing. Linney doesn't have the devilish, dark humor that Meryl Streep had in The Devil Wears Prada but manages to make herself a sympathetic character whose marriage is failing while not understanding about her role as a mother.

Ever since her landmark roles four years ago in films like Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, Scarlett Johansson has become an actress that's been hit-and-miss. For this film, it's becoming clear that she is miscast in this role as the film's protagonist. It's not her performance but rather the approach. In some scenes, Johansson shows her strength as actress with her sarcastic humor, her own dramatic reactions, and a few one-liners. Yet, for the rest of the film, it seems like she is working with material that's beneath her as she is forced to be a physical-comedy actress or having to be in situations that tends to be contrived.

If the role was given to someone like Anne Hathaway, Kirsten Dunst, or even someone that's been more experienced in comedy, it would've worked. For Scarlett, her performance is really inconsistent since she is either being mis-directed or taking a wrong idea. It's not the worst thing she's done (that honor goes to that bloody awful Justin Timberlake video) but she's not at her best either. Bottom line, it's minor stuff.

Despite being entertaining and watchable, The Nanny Diaries is an overall, major disappointment from the directing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman and its lead actress Scarlett Johansson. Audiences who like light-hearted comedies might find this film watchable when it's on TV but will probably figure that there’s better films out there. What's really disappointing about this is that the people who made this film were the same people who made a film as original and unique as American Splendor.

It's not entirely the fault of its directors but rather the producers and most of all, the Weinstein brothers by taking this film into something average and playing around with the release date that ends up hurting the film more. In the end, stick with The Devil Wears Prada and wait for The Nanny Diaries when it's on TV or available as a rental.

Related Review:

American Splendor (2003):

Scarlett Johansson Reviews (in bold are the essentials):

North (1994):

Just Cause (1995):

Manny & Lo (1996):

Fall (1997):

Home Alone 3 (1997):

The Horse Whisperer (1998):

Ghost World (2001):

An American Rhapsody (2001):

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001):

Eight Legged Freaks (2002):

Lost in Translation (aka BEST FILM EVER!!!) (2003):

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003):

The Perfect Score (2004):

A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004):

A Good Woman (2004):

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004):

In Good Company (2004):

Match Point (2005):

The Island (2005):

Scoop (2006):

The Black Dahlia (2006):

The Prestige (2006):

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008):

(Unfortunately, pushed to early 2008)

Recommend this product? No

Movie Mood: Feel-good Movie
Viewing Method: Studio Screening/Premiere
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Plot

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