Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) has a lot going for her. She's a brand-new college grad with a degree in business and anthropology. Though her dad is absent, her mom (Donna Murphy) is a nurse with huge dreams for the daughter who's getting the opportunities she never had. And Annie's got an interview with one of the top business firms in New York City.
But all it takes is one question on said interview to bring to a screeching halt the promising path of this New Jersey girl: Who is Annie Braddock? Sitting there in a high-powered office in a stiff, new business suit, Annie realizes she has no idea.
So she bolts from the interview and winds up on a Central Park bench next to a woman Annie's sure represents her future: a bag lady. Sitting there making anthropological observations about the various NYC women around her, Annie daringly saves a four-year-old boy from the path of a distracted biker. His mother is Mrs. X (Laura Linney), a Fifth Avenue Mom, one of the most pampered and polished breeds around. She mistakenly thinks Annie is a nanny and offers her an interview for the newly vacated post of rearing her son, Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art). When other Fifth Avenue Moms in the area overhear there's an unemployed nanny on the loose, they bombard Annie with their phone numbers. Suddenly the lost New Jersey girl is a hot commodity, so Annie decides to "duck out of life for a summer" and become a nanny for the X family.
While Grayer and Mrs. X were all sweetness and light at the first meeting in Central Park, their true colors come out once Annie becomes Nanny. Grayer pulls every precocious kid prank from stomping on her feet to locking her out of the house. Mrs. X has an unending list of rules for Grayer, from his high-soy, organic diet to his banishment from the germ-laden subway system. But a closer anthropological study shows that Grayer is a hellion because he's desperate for his parents' attention. And Mrs. X is a selfish snob who's desperate to recapture the eye of her womanizing, workaholic husband.
But Annie has a few family issues of her own. Not wanting to disappoint her mom's high expectations, Annie lied and told her she got the prestigious business job and is now living a dream existence in the city. So on top of putting up with the X family's antics, Annie also has to keep up appearances for her mom—as well as deflect the advances of Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans), a handsome young heartthrob in the Xs' building. Since Annie's predecessor got fired for having a social life, Annie has to dodge his relentless pursuit.
The remainder of the movie focuses on Annie's dilemma—she's horrified by the heartless Xs, but also drawn to her young charge. How can she leave the boy she's come to love, especially when she's the one sane, loving person in his life?
The Nanny Diaries is based on the bestselling novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, two former NYC nannies. While the book was biting and snarky, and presumably gave us an insider peek into the world upper-crust nannydom, the movie goes more for cute. Unfortunately it doesn't always succeed at cute, nor at biting. Think The Devil Wears Prada without the cattiness and couture, but with toddlers and French clowns.
Scarlett Johansson seems a bit miscast as Annie Braddock. With her high cheekbones and supermodel mouth, it's hard to buy her as a gangly New Jersey girl trying to make good amongst the elite. She never quite seems to get her footing as the movie's lead. Her transition from love-hate relationship to nickname-calling buddies with Grayer is too quick, and their chemistry doesn't feel authentic. And we have no idea why Harvard Hottie keeps pursuing Annie when all we see her do is poke fun at his pedigree.
In contrast, Laura Linney is perfectly cast as Mrs. X. She does high society well, but saves her character from becoming simply a caricature. As she makes ridiculous demands of Annie, we see the denial and pain etched on her face. We simultaneously hate her and feel sorry for her. Paul Giamatti is almost unrecognizable as blond high-powered businessman Mr. X. He seems utterly detached from his family, which is almost hard to watch in some scenes. It's one thing to watch Meryl Streep torture 20-something fashionista-wannabes in The Devil Wears Prada, it's quite another to watch Giamatti shut the door on his four-year-old kid and later give away his puppy.
Both Annie and Mrs. X grow by the end of the movie. But we experience that more as a quick, voice-overed epilogue than as an active part of the flick. I wanted to channel my high school English teacher and tell the screen, "Show us, don't tell us." To that end, the part of the movie that tries to be a drama doesn't succeed. Overall, this diary has a few sweet and funny passages, but in the end it's simply not juicy or endearing enough to hold our interest.Discussion starters
- How would you describe the two mother/child relationships in the film—between Annie and her mom, and Mrs. X and Grayer? Which is more like the relationship you have with your mom and/or child?
- What do you think about a family hiring a nanny? What's good and/or bad about it?
- If you had to answer Annie's interview question, "Who are you?", how would you respond?
- List the characters who treat others badly because they're actually upset with someone else. Have you done this recently? If so, is there someone you need to apologize to?
- What assumptions do characters in the movie make about others based on socioeconomic class? Do you make any of these same assumptions?
- What lessons do Annie and Mrs. X learn by the end of the movie? Where do you see them in five years?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The language that earns The Nanny Diaries its PG-13 rating is mild and sparse. There's a scene where we see Scarlett Johansson in her undies. We see Mr. X make out with another woman (not Mrs. X) and grab Annie's behind. Annie and Harvard Hottie make out and presumably spend the night together, though none of the latter part of that is shown. Annie's best friend, Lynette, has a gay male roommate, though that's just alluded to briefly in a couple conversations. Some of Grayer's awful behavior is passed off as funny, so it might be worth chatting with younger viewers what's not-so-great about his antics.
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