Sunday, April 4, 2010

Archive: "The Nanny Diaries" (2007)

Call up the nannies because it's time for a night on the town! And what not a better way to spend the evening than to see a nearly-there chick flick that is just a little too vanilla for anybody's taste buds to get anything from? Why exactly was I seeing "The Nannie Diaries" to begin with? Well, only because my three favorite people are in it: Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, and Chris Evans. It's too bad I now prefer to see them in their own respective movies. Evans is whatever and just a bit too much of a nice guy for his own good, and Johansson seems out of place aside from her wit that gives her the ability to look like she knows it's nothing special. Linney, on the other hand, feels a step above as she surprisingly steps out of a screenplay that tries to limit her character, and she further proves to be a flexible actress.

The movie uses inventive visual quirks, which turn out to be its best aspect as the story itself is entirely superficial. Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) strives to be an anthropologist, and in the opening and best scene, we are shown the dioramas in the Museum of Natural History presenting different cultures around the world, which then lead up to the Upper East Side of New York City, the most hostile culture of all. Here's a culture where the mothers don't have jobs and yet still don't have enough time, and the husbands are completely out of the picture. And that's where the nanny comes in. Annie accidentally gets hired by one of the said exhibits, Mrs. X (Laura Linney), who bumps into her at Central Park and mishears Annie state her name and hears Nanny instead. She immediately assumes Annie is indeed a nanny, believes she would want to work for her, swoops her up, and relentlessly refers to her as Nanny from there on.

The little boy Annie has to look after is named Grayer, and as one would expect, he doesn't like her at first. Mrs. X has his son on a strict soy diet and wants Annie to speak French with him each day so he can get into an Ivy League elementary school. Well, of course Grayer doesn't like this along with Annie, and so, of course, the rules get broken. And as one would expect again, she begins to grow on the kid. Keep in mind, however, the job is still awful. It's a 24/7 duty, her room is dingy, the rules are strict, the demands are great, there's lots of manipulation, and there's even a teddy spy cam. And as much as Annie wants to ditch the job, the attachment to the kid makes it all the harder to leave.

The nannying world Annie is experiencing is like an alternate universe, and she only has three contacts to the outside world. Her mother doesn't even know about Annie's nannying and thinks she has her own apartment and a real job; her NYU best friend (Alicia Keys) frowns upon Annie's choice but still supports her all the way; and there's the neighbor who Annie refers to as the Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans), but Mrs. X says he's off-limits because relationships only get in the way. Departing from the outside world, though, there's still Mr. X (Paul Giamatti). He's a jerk of a workaholic and has known affairs with businesswomen, yet Mrs. X acts purposely naive and clings to him. Annie not only has to care for Grayer, but she also feels involved with the Xes troubled marriage.

Moments of sweetness and humor are few and far between as the movie mostly resorts to sit-com antics, which makes the overall plot development entirely scattered and uneven. The progression is predictable and bland, and the fact that Annie eventually rises up over her employees and teaches a lesson to all those other nanny owners is no surprise. The revelation made by the end, especially, feels too contrived because we knew it was coming all along. The other problem is that the movie stoops to exaggerated stereotypes of the upper class when it actually had the potential to be a snappier satire. There's a constant voice over by Johansson throughout, and Annie's anthropological view on life goes well with narration; it's clever and effective in the way the entire movie is told as if it were a scientific case study, but in the end, it isn't enough.

There are some noted similarities between "The Nanny Diaries" and "The Devil Wears Prada" as both were beach reads written by women and then adapted into movies, and both deal with the snooty, feminine upper class of Manhattan and the college grads that have to deal with it. I haven't seen the latter movie, but from what I've heard about it and with the lackluster quality of this wannabe that I have now seen, I think it's about time I sit down to enjoy some evil Meryl Streep. Sorry Scarlett, maybe next time.

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