The Nanny Diaries

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2007, 12:00am

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Nicholas Art, Chris Evans

Directors: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

Category: I

More than an hour into The Nanny Diaries, the film's main character, lost-in-Manhattan New Jersey girl Annie (Scarlett Johansson, right), sits in Central Park and muses, in a Woody Allen-esque monologue, about her predicament. Having fluffed a job interview at an investment bank, she has taken a job as a child-carer for a wealthy New York family.

Annie fancies herself as a bit of an anthropologist, and she's concerned about 'going native'. She frets that instead of merely observing the seemingly alien antics of the city's high-society figures, she is fast becoming absorbed into their world, unable to cast a critical eye on her subjects' peculiar rituals as she becomes emotionally attached to them. The only way out, Annie thinks, is to cut the links and leave.

Of course, she fails - and her failure mirrors that of The Nanny Diaries. Instead of sticking to its brief - to satirise the quirks and excesses of the Big Apple's moneyed elite, as does the novel on which it is based - the film veers into feel-good territory. Instead of offering a forensic study of the city's power-brokers and their socialite spouses, filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini retreat into telling a conventional story, conventionally, with a degree of sympathy for their subjects that undermines the attempt to lampoon them.

The Nanny Diaries begins promisingly, as Annie's po-faced narration introduces the weird world of New York's upper class in a manner akin to an anthropological study. The film's opening sequence is set in a natural history museum, in which the high-fliers and their nannies are presented as two specimens. That sets the scene for Annie's entrance, as she leaves university with a business studies degree and a possible future at an investment bank. Her botched interview and an attack of self-doubt usher in an animated sequence showing archetypal New York movers, from Tribeca fashionistas to big-shot lawyers. And then comes an encounter with the affluent Mrs X (Laura Linney) and her troublesome son, Grayer (Nicholas Art, above).

So begins Annie's life as a long-suffering minder for the boy. The burden of her new job seems lightened by a budding relationship with Grayer's handsome, rich-boy neighbour (Chris Evans), but in fact it's just made more problematic. And it's from there that The Nanny Diaries loses its edge. Although Annie's initial forays into New York's social elite are presented as anthropological fieldwork of sorts (their rituals are portrayed as foreign rites, complete with a soundtrack of tribal drumming), her immersion in that world and her sympathy for Grayer and Mrs X (herself an angst-ridden, lost soul trapped in a loveless marriage with unfaithful absentee-husband Paul Giamatti) undermines the film's potential as a scorching satire.

The Nanny Diaries is screening now