The Nanny Diaries
Review By: Michael Dance
The Nanny Diaries is very obviously based on a chick-lit novel. It opens with a super-cutesy voiceover of Scarlett Johansson explaining the various social groups of rich New Yorkers (which plays like the evolution of that requisite scene from teen movies in which we’re taught the hierarchy of the lunch room). It stars a plucky but aimless heroine who becomes the poor, poor victim of her harsh new job. And for good measure, it throws in a romantic subplot featuring an improbably hot, rich, and perfect guy who loves the heroine because the script requires that there be a romantic subplot.
A lot of this sounds similar to The Devil Wears Prada, which was also about a young woman who almost sells her soul to the New York job market. That movie pretty much got the chick-lit adaptation formula down pat, and its surprising box office success no doubt encouraged the producers of Nanny Diaries. It was originally set to be released in late spring, and I’m surprised they’ve exiled it to the end of the summer; it’s well-done enough to appeal to its target audience. Maybe there was a fear that the childcare world isn’t quite as sexy as the fashion world.
Yes, The Nanny Diaries is a solid product, but it’s also routine and unrealistic. Now, I won’t judge how accurate it portrays the real world of rich Upper East Side families and their nannies (my guess is stereotypically, but also frighteningly close to reality). But the protagonist is a cliché, every relationship in the film never gets past surface level, and again, the love interest is pure fantasy. Played by Chris Evans, a good actor (see Sunshine) who has nothing to do here, he is literally referred to as “Harvard Hottie,” which is the complete extent of his personality, other than being a really nice guy (inexplicable since all his friends are jerks).
Then again, the film doesn’t ever pretend it’s trying to dig any deeper. The aforementioned introductory voiceover establishes that Annie, Johansson’s character, is presenting this story to us as an anthropological study – see, that was her passion in college – and every new character is presented as a “subject” and not given a name. Afraid of the hypercompetitive business job market, Annie goes to work for Mr. and Mrs. X as a nanny for their young son Grayer. (Don’t ask me why we know his name and not theirs. I didn’t make the rules.)
Mrs. X, played by Laura Linney, is the Meryl Streep character,