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THE NANNY DIARIES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Alicia Keys, Chris Evans, Donna Murphy, Paul Giamatti
Directors:  Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Weinstein Company
Features:  See Review
Length:  104 Minutes
Release Date:  December 4, 2007

“Keep your feet on the ground, young lady!”

Film *1/2

The Nanny Diaries is an awkward jump from the top of the cliché tree, and hits just about every branch on the way down.  It was based on a best-selling novel, and for all I know, it may have played out better on the printed page.  On screen…well, we’ve seen it all before.  And done better.

Scarlett Johansson plays Annie, a recent college grad who freezes up when asked an easy question at a job interview.  Then when she rescues a kid from an accident in the park, she meets the mom.  “I’m Annie,” she says.  The mom hears “nanny”.  Soon, women in the park are all coming up to give her a card.  They all want to hire her.  Why, exactly?

As absurd as the scene was, I suppose it works as a commentary on the Manhattan lifestyle, of which Woody Allen has written constantly about and with much more real insight.  The mother, only called “Mrs. X” in the story, is played by Laura Linney, a gifted actress reduced to a stereotype of a vain, selfish, unworking rich society woman, married to Mr. X (Giamatti, in another thankless role), who is a workaholic and having an affair that not even his wife seems to care about.

Did I miss any of the clichés?  Well, of course, they are bad and inattentive parents who seemed to have a child only as a status symbol.  They’re more interested in what bragging rights the kid represents rather than how his day went or what he did.  That’s where Annie comes in…she provides the parents with the right to call themselves parents, but without any of the emotional or temporal investment.

The boy, of course, is an insufferable monster, but sad and misunderstood.  And I’m not suggesting that all of these people don’t exist in real life…no doubt they do, but this is a movie with big star power.  Could we have gotten something a little more interesting that assembly-belt types?

Annie actually studied anthropology in college, and in the opening, we see New York socialites called by scientific names and shown as though in their natural habitats in a museum.  It’s more silly than funny.  And, of course, what by-the-numbers nanny movie would be complete without tips of the hat to Mary Poppins?  It’s less homage and more like lack of any original ideas.

Scarlett Johansson has beauty and talent, but they’re wasted here.  Her chance at an illicit romance comes in the form of Chris Evans, who only gets called “Harvard Hottie”.  Right.  And the comedy…either Ms. Johansson doesn’t have it in her, or she does, but requires a script that actually provides some laughs.

Writers and directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman also made American Splendor, also starring Paul Giamatti.  It was loved by many critics but seemed too forcedly clever for my taste.  The Nanny Diaries didn’t inspire me to rethink that opinion.  What can one really take away from this movie?  That the rich are self-absorbed?  That the servants know more about what goes on in a house than the owners?  That children are part of our families and not commodities? 

Maybe it’s just that comedies should be funny.  That’s something worth noting in your journal.

Video ***

The anamorphic transfer is perfectly good, though not particularly demanding.  Colors look natural, images seem sharp and clear, but the cinematography doesn’t require much in the way of digital detail.

Audio ***

Same with the audio…it works perfectly fine, with minimal dynamic range and use of the surrounds, which is about what you’d expect for a modern comedy.

Features **

There is a making-of featurette, a conversation with the authors of the book, a trailer and a blooper reel.

Summary:

The Nanny Diaries purports to be fresh, funny and insightful, but in reality, it’s just tedious, contrived and weary.  It offers very few real pleasures, and what ones are there will only serve to remind you of films that did it better.

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