Review: 'The Nanny Diaries' dull and unoriginal

In “The Nanny Diaries,” a culture-shocked Jersey girl takes us through the currents of New York’s Upper East Side, a universe where privilege produces distinct breeds of coldhearted businessmen, cosmetically minded socialites and trophy kids with French tutors and designer diets. Surely, the potential for a stinging satire or a revealing slice of weird subculture exists here. But as presented in conventional mode by formerly sterling writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, of “American Splendor” fame, the jabs are soft and the insights dim.

Semifaithfully adapting Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’ novel, the filmmakers present the story as a field study of the aforementioned Manhattan environs, where natives fill their hollow lives with office affairs, extravagant shopping and charity luncheons. They provide their kids with costly educations and birthday-party mimes but little in the way of personal attention. The latterneed is Nanny’s to fill.

Annie (Scarlett Johansson), a New Jersey-bred recent anthropology grad, accidentally lands a nanny job in the home of a wealthy family referred to as the Xs. Her Mary Poppins fantasies subside fast when she realizes that Mrs. X (Laura Linney) is an unreasonable control freak, Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) is a philandering louse, and her young charge, Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art), is an obnoxious brat — and that their demands on her are 24/7. Eventually, Annie bonds with Grayer and achieves liberation.

The film begins decently. Annie’s vision of Upper East Side rich folk as behavioral-study figures in a museum diorama isn’t profound, but it’s cute in an anthro-pop way. The passages depicting Mrs. X’s demandingness, echoing similar material in “The Devil Wears Prada” but with Linney’s own stamp, are adequately amusing.

But unfortunately, the filmmakers, in an about-face from their original, edgy “American Splendor,” avoid anything substantially sharp or off-center. Standard boss-from-hell and girl-meets-world formulas prevail, complete with a romance — Annie and a bland “Harvard Hottie” (Chris Evans) — and a stream of domestic dramatics.

The result is mush and phoniness rather than a vibrant or biting portrayal of Upper East Side warpedness.

Among the cast, Johansson is agreeable, but her character is too benign to inspire our deep investment and is dullsville next to the outrageously harsh but humanity-tinged Mrs. X, whom Linney almost succeeds in making three dimensional. Giamatti, who was terrific as comic-book everyman Harvey Pekar in “American Splendor,” is formidable but stuck in a one-note role.

The Nanny Diaries **

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Nicholas Reese Art, Paul Giamatti.

Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini; based on the book byEmma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Rated PG-13

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Giants second baseman Donovan Solano scores on a double in the seventh inning against the Dodgers at Oracle Park on July 29. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Will the Giants make the playoffs? Kris Bryant may be the answer

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner You’d be hard-pressed to find… Continue reading

Tiffany Carter, owner of Boug Cali West Coast Creole Shack in San Francisco’s La Cocina Marketplace, was dismayed by gentrification she found when she returned to her hometown to start a business. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF Black Wallstreet: Helping residents build wealth, reclaim spaces they’ve had to leave

Tiffany Carter moved back to her hometown of San Francisco five years… Continue reading

A prescribed fire at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was conducted in June 2016 to reduce hazardous fuel loading, increase watershed health, and restore the natural fire cycle in the Redwood Canyon area ecosystem. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Paterson/National Park Service)
Experts, UC scientists discuss wildfires in the state’s riskiest regions

Wildfires are nothing new in California’s history, but the magnitude and frequencies… Continue reading

Fourth-grade students at Lucerne Valley Elementary School don masks and Western wear for a “Walk Through California” history day during in-person instruction. (Courtesy of Krystal Nelson)
Confusion over mask mandate for California schools sparks tension between districts and parents

By Diana Lambert EdSource Shifting rules around mask mandates at schools are… Continue reading

Steven Buss, left, and Sachin Agarwal co-founded Grow SF, which plans to produce election voter guides offering a moderate agenda. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Grow SF: New tech group aims to promote moderate ideals to political newcomers

Sachin Agarwal has lived in San Francisco for 15 years. But the… Continue reading

Most Read