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Rich people suck: Linney in The Nanny Diaries.

The Devil Wears Short Pants

By Shawn Stone

The Nanny Diaries

Directed 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.

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