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January 11th, 2007:
Strapped for cash after her recent graduation from New York University, Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson
) puts an ad in the newspaper, hoping to find a position as a nanny. Thankfully, a chance encounter quickly leads to potential employment with Mr. X (Paul Giamatti
) and Mrs. X (Laura Linney
), a wealthy Upper East Side couple looking for someone to care for their 4-year-old son, Grayer. Annie is a product of a working-class New Jersey family, where her mother (Donna Murphy
) has dreams of her daughter becoming a respectable businesswoman. Meanwhile, Annie has her sights set on a career in anthropology. Suddenly, the prospect of working for some of the city’s social elite seems like a nice alternative. Annie has done some babysitting in the past, but she has no idea what she is getting herself into when she accepts the position. Mrs. X turns out to be the employer from hell – a pampered wife, whose increasingly outrageous demands take a considerable toll on Annie. Even worse, Mr. X is never around and Annie is basically caught right in the middle of the couple’s crumbling marriage. For the next nine frenzied months, Annie is forced to juggle between the pair, their dysfunctions, their son, and a new love interest (Chris Evans
).What to Expect:
The film is based on a popular novel of the same name written by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin. Drawing from their own experiences, the two former nannies intended the book to be a searing satire of New York’s upper social class and an open criticism of their approach to child-raising. It is indeed an amusing and entertaining tale, but it is also full of embarrassing and downright atrociously eye-opening moments. Directors Shari Springer Berman
and Robert Pulcini
wrote and directed together the offbeat and somewhat dark comedy American Splendor. The Nanny Diaries doesn’t quite have the same savage humor and the movie is likely to turn out more lighthearted than the book, but hopefully, the directors will be able to once again deliver a similarly sly and playfully wicked take on the story, as they did with American Splendor. Article continues below
The one thing that the movie has going for it, without a shadow of a doubt, is the tremendous casting. Red-hot Scarlett Johansson stars as Annie, the main character, who was only referred to as “Nan” in the novel. The movie is clearly breaking the rules on some of the book’s vague nomenclature, which the authors used to either conceal the true identities of their characters or to generalize them as composites of more than one person. Since the novel and the film are both told from her point of view, a lot of Annie’s thoughts are revealed through voice-overs, and frequently very sarcastic ones at that.
For the most part, however, Annie’s character is more of an everyman and it is the colorful characters around her that steal the show, starting with the outlandish Mrs. X. Laura Linney stars as the highly dysfunctional and neurotic head of the household and I am instantly reminded of some of the obnoxious characters the actress has played so effectively in the past, including Truman’s phony wife in The Truman Show. Simply put, she is ideal for the part. Her character met Mr. X while he was still married and the two proceeded to have an affair. Mr. X eventually divorced his wife, married Mrs. X, and the two of them had Grayer. Mrs. X’s average day consists primarily of finding new ways of how to spend her husband’s seven-figure salary. Typically, she does so by throwing elaborate dinner parties for which Annie is employed as the principal server and forced to cater to Mrs. X’s every whim. Many people find the book fascinating simply because they cannot wait to see what Mrs. X will ask of Annie to do next. In one scenario, she asks Grayer and Annie to go eat in the bathroom so that she can show off the house to some guests. Mrs. X is clearly an unlikable figure in the movie, but there is a certain sadness to her dysfunction as well.
Mr. X, on the other hand, is rarely home. He spends a lot of time at his company’s Chicago branch, where he enjoys engaging in extramarital affairs with a co-worker nicknamed by Annie as Ms. Chicago, for obvious reasons. When he is at home he is grumpy and largely withdrawn and seems to be content with the fact that his second marriage is about to end. It’s a role almost tailored for Paul Giamatti’s sensibilities.
Grayer, the son, is actually a fairly nice, if a bit mischievous boy. He misses his absentee father and frequently carries around his business card with him wherever he goes. Later on, he also begins wearing one of his father’s ties. The kid has potential in life, but desperately needs some attention from his folks.
Annie’s problems are further complicated by a guy known only as “Harvard Hottie,” who will be played by Chris Evans. He lives in the same building as the X family and he and Annie eventually begin dating. Comments from early screenings suggest that Evans comes off bland and uninteresting, making the relationship seem somewhat dull and unbelievable.
Annie’s best friend Lynette, who was not featured in the book, will be played by singer Alicia Keys
, who is trying to make a transition from music to movies. Her feature film debut in the action flick Smokin’ Aces
hits theaters this January. I’m a little worried that her character in The Nanny Diaries was created solely to give the singer a bit part that portrayed her in a positive light – a little promotion rather than genuine artistic need.
Die hard fans of the novel have already been complaining about the numerous changes that have been made while adapting the book to the big screen. The movie will have neither Annie’s father, nor her grandma, despite the importance of the relationship between the latter and Annie in the novel. While in the book Annie is in her last year of school and has a roommate, in the movie she will be a recent college graduate that is living with her mother Judy in New Jersey.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***
Additionally, in the movie, Annie does not tell her mother that she is working as a nanny, but rather lies and pretends to be working for a big banking company. The film will also feature an entirely different ending than the book. The novel closes on a somewhat heartbreaking note as Nan makes a rather quiet exit from her post, but in the movie, Annie will chew the X’s out for their terrible parenting skills. The change will allow her character to triumph in the face of adversity, making for a much more Hollywood-friendly ending.
***END OF SPOILERS***
Although some of these changes seem like nitpicking, other ones may take away from the points the authors originally intended to make, resulting in a feature produced to satisfy the masses, rather than to challenge them with some amusing social analysis. I’m worried that the movie will miss out on the harsher satire as well as the more poignant moments in the book. There’s always something to be said about people who live empty, unexamined lives, filled with material wealth, but void of any substance. Instead of a clever probing of the characters’ dysfunctions, we might essentially be left with a Sandra Bullock
type of comedy
that was so prevalent in the mid 1990s.In Conclusion:
The movie sounds like a fun, satirical comedy, set in the always-delightful New York City, but I think there’s a danger that it might turn out a little bland. It should certainly feel this way to the fans of the novel since the adaptation is clearly making some omissions. The movie strongly reminds me of one of this past summer’s most surprising hits, The Devil Wears Prada
, which also threw an everyday girl into an extraordinary social situation.
***WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD***
At the end of the film, Meryl Streep
’s character is sort of humbled and humanized, making for a much more sympathetic ending than in the novel.
***END OF SPOILER***
I sense that the same is happening with The Nanny Diaries, which could result in an entertaining hit that will ultimately be forgettable. Clearly, the producers are hoping for similar success on the heels of The Devil Wears Prada.Similar Titles: The Devil Wears Prada
, Working Girl
, Two Weeks Notice