The Nanny Diaries
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The Nanny Diaries

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There are some flicks that get a worse than deserved reputation from critics and audiences because they are fluff, devote of any degree of depth. A better way to watch such a film may be to embrace the fluff and just watch to have a good time for a little while. Not every movie can be a cinematic masterpiece and to be real it would be boring if the only type of film you could watch was full of inner meaning and complex characters. Some times you just want to shut off the higher reasoning parts of your brain and sit back. This is the best way to watch ‘The Nanny Diaries’. It is the film adaptation of the novel by the same name from Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Since the book itself was light reading, suited best for a lazy summer’s day at the beach or while on the bus going to work addition profundity in the movie is beyond expectations. Like the book the film is fun and that is all it can claim.

If you are rich enough you can hire people to do just about everything for you. Assistants will scurry around for your morning mocha latté, pick up your dry cleaning and for the right price even raise your children. For these elite people carrying the child for nine months is enough ‘mommy and me’ time at least until the kid is eighteen or so. You can let a nanny take over those sundry jobs of ensuring the child is dressed, feed and taken to school and other activities. You can also make sure your assistant buys a nice expensive gift and signs your name to the card on birthdays and holidays. This is basically the situation that the heroine of ‘The Nanny Diaries’ finds herself, a proxy parent.

The film opens in a setting that will become very familiar throughout the movie, the diorama exhibits in New York City’s Museum of Natural History. Here are detailed scenes of human life through history. Our narrator is Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) who notes that child rearing is part of any culture. The most unusual of all such social arrangements is the small island called Manhattan. She explains that the inhabitants of the region called ‘The Upper East Side’ are prosperous but after mating and producing offspring the men are distant and the women to provide for the family. Since the women are resourceful they find others to actually do those things. This sets the tone for the flick. Annie is a recent graduate of college having studied child development and the path she wants her life to take, anthropology. The film is presented by Annie as if she was an anthropologist studying the habits of some distant, primitive culture. Annie’s mother, Judy (Donna Murphy) scrimped and saved for years just to put Annie through college. She wants nothing more than have her daughter find a successful career in big business and be financially set for life. The thought of Annie becoming something as esoteric as an anthropologist is just beyond reason for Judy. Mom wants her daughter to be able to go to Club Med while Annie would prefer Samoa. Annie’s best friend Lynette (Alicia Keys) is more pragmatic as well. She is usually trying to set Annie up with a nice guy instead of supporting her friend’s real career goals.

One day after an interview for a business job Annie is in the park. A man on a runaway scooter almost runs down a little boy, Grayer (Nicholas Art). Annie jumps out and pulls the boy to safety. His mother, Mrs. X (Laura Linney), as she is called in this ‘case study’, misunderstands Annie when she introduces herself and thinks she is a Nanny. She wants to hire ‘Nanny’ to care for her son. Soon a flock of other Upper East Side mothers gathered around Annie and offer her a job. Annie decides to become Nanny. All she knew about being a nanny came from Mary Poppins so in a dream she runs away from her mother towards a building with a huge red umbrella on its side. (Just a note here for trivia buffs the building is 390 Greenwich Street in Tribecca, part of Citigroup. I know, I worked there for years and watch them install the thing.) As Annie starts to talk to prospective employers she realizes a lot of them are crazy. One was putting tape down the middle of their apartment, she was getting a divorce and Annie would have to keep to the one side at all times. She finally decides that Mrs. X is as good as any and takes the job. Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) is the typical workaholic with barely any time for his family. Grayer is more than high spirited he is a spoiled brat. As time goes by Mrs. X makes more and more unreasonable demands on Annie making her responsible for most aspects of running the household. There is a potentially bright spot for Annie in the form of a handsome young man she calls Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans). Her little anthropological project is more intense than she had thought leaving Annie with little time for romance.

The film is from the writing-directing team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. The idea is brilliant. I have even tried the anthropologist idea when I have to review some of the really bad reality shows out there. It is cleaver to take an outsider’s look at what is considered the pinnacle of our social structure. In execution the idea looses steam about midway through the picture. It is nothing specific but there is a feeling that the point has been made so move along. Still there are moments of brilliance here that makes the movie worth while. Some of the fantasy sequences are annoying but I understand why they were included. Annie has an active imagination and this was one way of showing her whimsical side. Most of the film is a two person play between Annie and Grayer and that part was done better in Uptown Girls.

This is a dream cast that was for the most part not given enough to work with. Scarlett Johansson is without doubt one of the most beautiful young actresses today. She is also a great acting talent. While she has a way with comedy there is a one note quality to the script that Johansson does her best to overcome. They do try to tone down her looks here but that would take a lot of special effects makeup that they fortunately didn’t use. A big waste here is the part given Paul Giamatti. He is one of the best character actors around who is finally coming into his own as a leading man. Here he is relegated to a cardboard cutout of a character. A similar fate was given to Laura Linney and Donna Murphy. Both are fantastic actresses with nothing more than stereotypes in this film. I do have to give credit to Alicia Keys. Unlike many successful singers she is not trying to become a movie star overnight. Instead of demanding a lead role she is honing her acting talent with supporting roles like this. She has great potential and is building her acting credentials in the best possible way.

The combination of the Weinstein Company and Genius Pictures always provides the best possible releases of films to DVD. The have a release catalog that ranges from little independent gems to much larger films. Here the give this movie the attention to detail they are famous for. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is excellent. The color balance is bright and realistic with a wonderful contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio gives a full, rich feel to the movie. There are some interesting extras provided. ‘Life At The Top As Seen From The Bottom’ is the making of featurette. It details all aspects of production from filming in New York locations like Central Park to making their own diorama exhibits. There is also some behind the scenes look at how the fantasy scenes were achieved. The authors of the book speak out on watching their words come to life on the screen. The blooper reel is funnier than many I’ve seen lately. In all this is entertaining and will give a light evening of fun.

Posted 12/01/07

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