Somewhere between Mary Poppins and Sex and the City lies The Nanny Diaries, an adaptation of Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus' sordid, cynical best seller that is able to coast on its working-grrl attitude and a couple of intelligent casting decisions.
It's nice to see Scarlett Johansson
outside of Woody Allen's clutches. Here she showcases her rarely exercised knack for self-deprecating physical comedy as Annie Braddock, titular babysitter and recent college graduate who postpones her inevitable plunge into the rat race by accepting a nanny position at the posh Upper East Side residence of snippy Mrs. X (Laura Linney
, fabulous in the role). Article continues below
The dream job quickly turns nightmarish, though. Rumors that the last nanny received her walking papers after indulging in one date prevent Annie from pursuing the Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans
) who lives upstairs. Meanwhile, the elusive Mr. X (Paul Giamatti
) fills his calendar with business meetings -- code for girlfriends he keeps on the side. And the self-absorbed parents have no connection with Annie's charge, Grayer (Nicholas Art), a child of aristocracy pressured to behave like anything but a kid.
One nagging problem of Nanny, however, is that Johansson can't create much of a connection with young Art either, and too much of the story hinges on Annie's concern for Grayer’s well-being. There are handfuls of times we half expect this put-upon pseudo-parent to tell the X factors they can take their job and shove it. She doesn't, and we immediately question why. The part of Grayer requires more sympathy than Art -- or Johansson, by extension -- can muster.
What Nanny can do is punch holes through the stuffiness of Manhattan's upper crust. The script records smart commentaries on New York's social caste system, finding ways to categorize the unique borough's residents without digging too deep beneath the shallow surfaces. Yet even here, the movie oversteps its firm footing. During an impossibly impromptu dinner disaster, Annie demands Grayer try a peanut-butter-and-jelly concoction that, even after a lifetime of Grey Poupon, goes down smoothly. I was surprised to learn such a product existed. I was even more shocked that co-directors Shari Springer Berman
and Robert Pulcini
would mistakenly believe the Xs would have it in their pantry in the first place.
But the movie stays in its exclusive comfort zone for the most part, safely arriving at its stated bottom line: that those without money are equal to something a pampered pet would leave under a tree in Central Park. Don't worry, though. The nanny will pick that up.