Based on the novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, The Nanny Diaries is a warm and humorous film with a talented cast, sympathetic characters, and a coherent storyline that’s fun to watch. But it probably won’t teach viewers anything they don’t already know, which keeps it from being truly great.
Annie (Scarlett Johannson) has just graduated from college with a degree in business and a minor in anthropology. Her mother pressures her to get a “real” job right away. Annie wants to please her mother, but she really is more interested in anthropology.
After her path collides at Central Park with that of the “X” family, Annie finds herself the latest in a long string of X's nannies. The Xs are filthy rich and largely dysfunctional. Jersey-girl Annie experiences serious culture shock in the Upper East Side environment. She copes by whipping out her anthropologist’s field book and taking notes on the strange foreign customs she’s witnessing.
The culture of the Upper East Side is introduced in the form of a museum exhibit: here we see an Amazon family, one from East Asia, and one from rich New York. It’s an intriguing idea, but something about the way this is done doesn’t quite work. It’s reminiscent of the jungle analogy in Mean Girls, but in The Nanny Diaries the concept seems a bit tacked on.
Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, as the rich but miserable Mr. and Mrs. X, are quite funny. Mrs. X looks taken aback at every comment Annie dares to make, then flashes a quick fake smile and responds with the condescension befitting her socioeconomic status. Mr. X takes virtually no notice of Annie (or of his wife and child).
Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini also worked with Giamatti in 2003’s American Splendor, a pseudo-biopic about comic book writer Harvey Pekar. Sadly, The Nanny Diaries lacks Splendor’s quirky, oddball charm, leaning more toward predictable, formulaic Hollywood fare.
The film’s themes of finding yourself, following your heart, and understanding foreign culture are easy to identify with. They will appeal to a wide audience.
The Nanny Diaries is rated PG-13 for language. Audiences in search of light-hearted comedy will not be disappointed.