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Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Nanny Diaries

Tell the truth. How many of you hoped when you heard there was a movie coming out called The Nanny Diaries that it was about that certain gal that had been workin’ in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens ‘til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes. You know who I mean. The epitome of Nannydom everywhere ~ Ms. Fran Fine. Sadly, though, there was no Fran Drescher to be found anywhere in the pre-release publicity, so I felt defeated. Okay, I’ll admit she is a little long in the tooth to play the role she made famous on television back in the 1990s, but was Scarlett Johansson a good choice to play the nice Jewish girl from Queens out to steal away the heart of the stuffy Mr. Sheffield?

Then it occurred to me! I slapped my head and thought of that other famous tv nanny from a generation or three ago. Was it possible she going to play Phoebe Figalilly in a big screen update of the hugely under-rated 1970-71 sitcom “Nanny and the Professor”? That would be truly sweet, but, alas, it, too, was not to be and Juliet Mills and I were both shedding a nostalgic tear full of "Passions."

Finally, I held out one last faint hope Scarlett might be doing a younger take on Bette Davis’s classic psycho role in a remake of 1965’s The Nanny, but even that was dashed when I read in the trades that
The Nanny Diaries was based on a book by two real life former nannies, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Who knew Hollywood big shots read books these days? I thought they only made movies from recycled tv shows or other movies. Imagine. Something original. And in August, usually the dumping ground for the “not quite so stellar” offerings the studios have to burn off after their summer blockbusters have already emptied the majority of cash out of every moviegoer’s wallet in America.

So I was excited when I went to the
Essex Cinemas this past Friday to see The Nanny Diaries. I mean ~ wow! ~ an original idea made into a movie not based on an old tv show or previous movie. This was something so cool! And it was. It was something pretty darned entertaining.

Scarlett Johansson (The Prestige) plays Annie Braddock, a likeable enough young woman from New Jersey who has just graduated from college with a degree in Anthropology and no idea of who she really is or how she is going to support herself. Naturally her mother Judy (Donna Murphy; World Trade Center) has her own ideas, none of which appeal to Annie, but as fate would have it, an accident in Central Park creates the spark that leads to her new job as a nanny to a wealthy Upper East Side family she calls the “Xs” in her part-time narration of the film. Yes, one thing different about this than most movies is that the story is definitely told from one point of view, Annie’s, and she presents it to us as she would an anthropological display of her research. There are, in fact, some extremely amusing special effects that pop in on occasion which keep the mood lighter than it otherwise would be.

Annie apparently feels a need to keep the identities of her employers a secret and so she uses this not-so-subtle device to protect them since their behavior, as becomes apparent, is generally abhorrent at best and downright abusive at worst.

It takes only minutes after her arrival for Annie to realize that she is in way over her head, but by then it is too late to back out since she has already lied to her mother about her employment and where she is living. Mrs. X (Laura Linney: Breach) is a narcissistic sociopath, completely enamored of herself, her social position, and her ability to spend, spend, spend. The fact that she has a five year old son seems to have slipped her mind except when he can be used as an accessory in photo opportunities or as a key to gaining access to another socialite’s home via her own child’s birthday party. That being the case, Grayer (Nicholas Art; tv’s “Guiding Light") is a handful. He is destructive, angry, and generally not nice to this new nanny, only one of who-knows-how-many that have come and gone before. Annie does know that the last made it only one day before she was fired. Unfortunately, she didn’t know this information until after she had moved in.

You can imagine where the action might go with this one as Annie the Nanny earns the love of little Grayer right under the nose of ice queen Mrs. X., but there’s much more to this story and the real fun part is watching co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) lampoon the privileged society most of us admire (and latently fear) from afar. As much time is spent dissecting Mr. X (Paul Giamatti; Lady in the Water) and his wife and their deteriorating marriage as it does on the relationship between the parents and their son. It also shows the fragile façade that exists between the classes and how financial circumstances may make for differences in appearances, but behind this veneer the emotions of the individuals involved are ultimately the same.

There’s also a sub-plot tossed in The Nanny Diaries for those seeking a bit of romance in the story, but as nice an idea as this is, and as yummy as Chris Evans (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) is as a male lead, he is left with nothing to do here, not even enough that would require him to take off his shirt (which is a serious error in judgment on the part of the directors in my opinion).

All in all,
The Nanny Diaries offers a less than (Fran) Fine look at nannying, but it does provide a venomous skewing of the ϋber-rich who clog the high-rises of New York. It may well make you think twice the next time you up at those fancy-schmantzy penthouses and wish you were one of those “lucky schmucks” who lived there. You may, however, still keep looking on the off-chance Chris Evans is hanging around waiting for a chance to strip. I know I’ll be looking.

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