The Nanny Diaries

September 27th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Moviehole, Xpress

The only interesting thing about this messy, unsure-of-itself, genre-unspecific, tone-shifting ‘comedy’ is how the main players ended up in it.

Writer/directors Berman and Pulcini bought us the wonderfully offbeat American Splendour, about aged, cranky Clevelander Harvey Pekar (Giamatti) and his underground comic strip relating the struggles of his life and times.

And Scarlett Johansson is one of the most standout actresses working today. For a girl barely out of her teens, she’s never followed the Lindsay Lohan/Hilary Duff path from Disney girl to tabloid fodder, often convincingly playing mature women in intriguing roles and not always trading on her husky appeal. So it’s ironic that the material here brings her unstuck, coming across as neither funny nor particularly romantic.

Everything about her role in The Nanny Diaries screams ‘contracted appearance’. It’s a big studio rom-com hack job of the novel of the same name with so many elements and moods thrown at it in the hope they stick, even the movie itself doesn’t know what it is, much like the journey of the protagonist, Annie (Johansson).

She plays a career girl on the rise who really wants to be an anthropologist, falls into a job as a nanny to an emotionally crippled rich family from Manhattan’s upper east side, a world of Botox and air kisses, absent husbands and bubble-wrapped children.

At first it appears The Nanny Diaries is going to be like a million other rotten-kid-makes-heroine’s-life-hell-before-winning-her-heart comedies, but under the pretext she’s observing a civilisation for her impending anthropological studies, Annie quickly falls for the annoying kid and starts to see the yawning cracks in the domestic bliss of power couple The X’s (Linney and Giamatti).

The producers were obviously going for a similar result to The Devil Wears Prada, by taking source material with some dramatic credibility and dressing it up like the army of Sex in the City clones to appeal to Generation Xers who consider themselves cool, but while The Nanny Diaries tries to be smart, it can’t escape its own romantic comedy conventions. It might have been more enjoyable with a far less accomplished cast and no presumptions about its message.

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