August 30, 2007

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The Nanny Diaries (PG-13)
Scarlett Johansson stars in The Nanny Diaries, the tale of cartoonish Upper East Side of Manhattan moms and the women who really raise their children.

Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson; shades of The Graduate there?) has just graduated college with a degree in finance and anthropology. But sheís not sure that finance is for her. In fact, sheís not sure whatís for her or who she is. So, when Mrs. X (Laura Linney) and her son Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art) bump into her in Central Park (actually, tiny Grayer more or less mows her down), Annie finds herself easily siding into the role of Nanny, a position wherein her name is replaced by her profession, she gets little time for a social life and she is more or less left to raise a tiny, wealthy boy by herself. In exchange, she gets a cramped room in the back of the house (it is in the city, she thinks to herself) and decent pay (not that she ever has time to spend her wages). Her real aim with her new job is to serve as observer and Manhattanites in their natural habitat are her subjects. Mrs. X seems like a bitter, brittle woman who is self-absorbed but she also seems terrified by the constant threat of losing her husband, Mr. X (Paul Giamatti), a wealthy man who remains studiously separate from his family and seems to resent when they require his attention. (He only looks at Annie once, and then itís not at her face.) Left to the mercy of a string of nannies, Grayer is alternately pampered and horrible and lonely and darling. Nanny takes to the latter qualities and is eventually able to develop a relationship with him that involves a secret name (she calls him Grover) and her constant attempts to shield Grover from the worst parts of his parents behavior.

But is this job who Annie really is? Though diving head first into her ďcase studyĒ Annie canít tell her hardworking mother (Donna Murphy) about the job. It is, after all, exactly the kind of job Annieís mother worked hard all her life to make sure Annie would never have to take. And the job seems to be interfering with any kind of development of Annieís personal life, personified during her time with the Xs by Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans), the upper-crust boy who lives in the Xsí building and takes a shine to Annie.

Johansson has some fairly amazing qualities. Iím not talking about Johanssonís sexiness, which is well documented ó Vogue recently featured cheesecake photos of her that made her look 1940s-pin-up-girl glamorous. And itís not just her ability to wear shlubby clothes in a way that both look shlubby and yet also fabulous (itís like some kind of optical illusion and it really is amazing). Her most amazing feat is that sheís able to make movies that arenít all that smart (this movie, Scoop) seem smarter than they are. Sheís not great in this movie ó this movieís not great. But she elevates the material ó maybe itís the sarcastic, naÔve-yet-grounded delivery, or maybe itís the surprisingly well-developed sense of comic timing.

Linney is equally good at elevating the available material. Her character is not completely evil nor even completely selfish. We sense there is more to her character than shopping and the ďParents SocietyĒ meetings (wherein women who never do any parenting talk about that jobís stresses and difficulties).

The Nanny Diaries comes from the same roman a clef corner of the world as The Devil Wears Prada but that movie had more moments of sharp, delicious satire. It also had a far more annoying young female lead. Despite its rounded edges The Nanny Diaries is likeable, if lightweight. B-

Rated PG-13 for language. Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (from the novel of the same name by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus), The Nanny Diaries is an hour and 45 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by MGM.