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

From left, Doug Emhoff, U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Jill Biden and President-elect Joe Biden wave as they arrive on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)
Joe Biden inaugurated as 46th president as Trump era comes to an end

Todd Spangler Detroit Free Press Taking over the reins of government at… Continue reading

San Francisco City Hall is lit in gold and amber to remember victims as part of a national Memorial to Lives Lost to COVID-19 on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco joins national COVID memorial ceremony

San Francisco took part Tuesday in the first national Memorial to Lives… Continue reading

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
With executive orders, Biden to reverse Trump policies on environment, immigration

Evan Halper Los Angeles Times President-elect Joe Biden will move swiftly to… Continue reading

Private vehicles were banned from much of Market Street in January 2020, causing bike ridership on the street to increase by 25 percent and transit efficiency by as much as 12 percent. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board approves new Better Market Street legislation

Advocates say traffic safety improvements don’t go far enough to make up for lost bikeway

The S.F. Police Department has canceled discretionary days off and will have extra officers on duty for Inauguration Day, chief Bill Scott said Tuesday. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
SF ‘prepared for anything’ ahead of inauguration, but no protests expected

Authorities boosting police staffing, security at City Hall

Most Read