Nanny Diaries
It’s a new sport in New York: tossing kids from subway trains!

Theatrical Release Date: 08/24/2007
Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Nicholas Art, Chris Evans

I always like to watch movies with good performances, a solid script and good direction. With “The Nanny Diaries”, you get one of three, and contrary to a similar statement from “Mars Attacks”, that is bad.

In “The Nanny Diaries”, Scarlett Johansson is a college grad trying to figure out what she should do with her life who falls into a nanny position for Laura Linney, a wealthy socialite wife that spends more time organizing benefit fundraisers than raising her child.

The predictable social stratus stereotypes are fully in play here and all of the archetypes are presented under the guise of an anthropological field study narrated by anthropology minor Johansson.

This presentation style is not only ineffective, it’s boring. Even better, it’s not in the book and was completely fabricated for the film by its two writer/directors – Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

According to some research I did on the Net, there were plenty of other changes to the novel in its translation to film as well. I can forgive this because the authors of the novel (there were two for that too) are okay with the film and because I understand that in adapting source material for film, you often have to adjust things to fit the medium being used.

My problem with “The Nanny Diaries” doesn’t stem from any changes to the book; it’s that the film is entirely predictable, maudlin and uninteresting.

On the plus side, as I briefly noted before, the performances are good. Linney, especially, delivers a strong portrayal of a woman who has succumbed to the pitfalls inherent in her situation. Johansson is great in her scenes with Nicholas Art, who plays the child she’s charged with caring for. However, most of her adult interactions feel insincere.

There’s a decent supporting cast, most notably bolstered by Paul Giamatti as Linney’s husband. The other actors are average but I credit that more to the weak script and direction than to their abilities.

Adding to my disappointing film experience is a half-hearted attempt at presenting a “Mary Poppins” fantasy element to the story. I get the reference but since there aren’t any similarities between the films aside from the fact that Johansson plays a nanny, this seemed like a cute, random idea that should have been thrown out in pre-production meetings.

I suppose that if you are a native New Yorker, there’s more to connect with in the film. Many of the elements in the film pertain to stereotypes supposedly common to certain segments of the Big Apple. As a resident of the other coast, not only do I not identify with many of those ideas, I simply don’t care.

And for a film about caring for a child in need of love, that’s one emotion that shouldn’t be missing. This doesn’t even touch the unrealistic ending that doesn’t serve the story (or the novel) but seems more designed to please screening audiences.

I was going to give this a passing grade but the more that I think about it, I just don’t see how I could. I couldn’t engage with the film and aside from Linney’s performance and Johansson’s aesthetics, there isn’t much to like here. “The Nanny Diaries” gets a 2 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a film about children in need of love, there’s a lot more sincerity and heart in films like “Mostly Martha” or even “Man on Fire”. No matter how much blood is spilled in that one, the connection is still much deeper and much more real.