Reducing the plot of “The Nanny Diaries” to its simplest essence, we get this: Confused college graduate in New York City learns what she’s really made of after taking a job with coldhearted rich people who think her time (and life) is less valuable than theirs.
Haven’t we seen this movie recently? Oh right, it sounds a lot like “The Devil Wears Prada,” another satirical page-to-screen phenomenon.
Sure, there are differences between the two — “Devil” was about being a fashion industry slave and “Diaries” is about a domestic servant, for one. There just aren’t enough to dissuade us from making comparisons and, ultimately, crowning the earlier film victor in the battle of the you-know-what bosses. “The Nanny Diaries” just doesn’t have the tenacious teeth that its predecessor did, nor that fabulous performance by Meryl Streep.
In print, this tale (by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus) was more nuanced and barbed. Annie, the main character, for example, was still a student, and her employers’ complete disregard for her education made them seem particularly evil. Here, however, that’s been dropped to facilitate a cliched “Who the heck am I now that I’ve graduated?” theme.
As Annie, Scarlett Johansson does the best she can with the script, as does the icy Laura Linney as her Upper East Side employer, Mrs. X. The latter character commits all manner of vicious injustices against Annie, beginning with reducing her name simply to “Nanny” and building up to reneging on promises of nights off, installing a “Nanny cam,” hiring a consultant to critique her nannying, and forcing her to wear humiliating costumes. She even dashes Annie’s dreams of dating the “Harvard Hottie” (Chris Evans) in the building.
Yeah, it’s all pretty terrible.
What we need, then, is a real sense of why Annie’s putting up with this. The most effective way to deliver it would be to make the audience also fall in love with the boy Annie’s caring for (as she tells us she’s done), so that we, too, can feel conflicted about the job. But this never arrives.
Instead, we get a slew of stereotypical characters and predictable interactions: the adulterous businessman Mr. X (Paul Giamatti, a little miscast) ignoring his child yet hitting on Annie; Harvard Hottie convincing Annie that blue-blooded kids can have it rough, too; a hip, black girlfriend (Alicia Keys) who lives downtown and disapproves of Annie’s choices; a hard-nosed mother (Donna Murphy) who’s toiled as a nurse so that Annie could do something better than becoming a nanny; and a gaggle of ethnic nannies whose dialogue borders on demeaning (“Stop eating ‘dem boogers”), despite the film’s best efforts to glorify these devoted caregivers.
Our best advice: Walk into this film expecting a fluffy summer chick flick. Do this, and “The Nanny” might just treat you right.
TITLE: “The Nanny Diaries”
RATING: PG-13 (language)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Based on the book by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus.
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
WEB SITE: www.thenannydiariesmovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS