people suck: Linney in The Nanny Diaries.
Devil Wears Short Pants
by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Just what we need at the end of the summer movie season, a
dreary comedy about annoying—or worse—people. The Nanny
Diaries is the story of neophyte nanny Annie Braddock
(Scarlett Johansson), and her wretched job caring for obnoxious
5-year-old Grayer X (Nicholas Reese Art) and his horrible
mother, Mrs. X (Laura Linney).
No, the “Xs” are not black Muslims. A perfectly reasonable
literary device has been clumsily transposed from the source
material—not the last clumsy move the directors make.
Let’s go back to the story. How does Annie become Nanny? She
saves the brat from getting run over by one of those annoying
(and now illegal) Segways in Central Park. Mrs. X’s eyes immediately
light up: Currently nanny-less, she knows child-care skill
when she sees it.
How’s that for a sledgehammer opener? Nanny will “save” Grayer
from his awful family. Terrific. Of course, the brat will
help Nanny save herself, too. How touching. Who will save
the audience, that’s what I’d like to know.
It’s hard to decide where to begin to pick this one apart.
The self-consciously “whimsical” direction, with its (failed)
Terry Gilliam-esque fantasy sequences? The all-over-the-place
emotional tone? The by-the-numbers plotting? The fact that
it would take an actress with a lot more skill than Johansson
to make this paper-thin character interesting? Meh: I won’t
waste any more of your valuable reading time than necessary.
The basic problem with The Nanny Diaries is how badly
it wants to be The Devil Wears Prada. Unfortunately,
Nanny is a nitwit, and the film’s monster, Mrs. X, is completely
unsympathetic. At least Meryl Streep’s nightmarish, Wintour-esque
arbiter of fashion was a genius at what she did; Mrs. X is
just contemptible—and Linney is too good an actress to play
her any other way. Oh, and they even recycle the weary device
of the Black Friend: Anne Hathaway had Traci Thoms in Prada,
so Johansson’s pal here is Alicia Keys.
The plot of the popular novel by a couple of ex-nannies has
also been reworked by the filmmakers to transform Nanny from
a financially struggling NYU senior to an immature recent
grad with tedious self-esteem issues. Only God, or producer
Harvey Weinstein, knows why—but the fact that Nanny’s parents
are also replaced with a single mom provides a clue. The filmmakers
want to say something about feminism. Unfortunately, they
fail as miserably at this as they do at simply providing entertainment.