The Nanny Diaries is a film that was quickly forgotten, if ever realized, after it came out in late August 2007. About a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who, defying her college education, becomes a nanny for a New York elitist, The Nanny Diaries is a surprisingly entertaining comedy-drama that would have done a lot better in theaters given a proper marketing budget.
Johansson plays Annie Braddock, who takes a job for an Upper East Side wife (Laura Linney). While at first it appears as though she has landed the perfect gig, the realization that she has voluntarily submitted herself to Hell is a rude awakening. The wife, known only as Mrs. X, neglects her son and spends more time preparing for events than caring for her family. Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) is even worse, as he seems to care nothing for his wife or kid. Still, Annie presses on, realizing that without her, the boy she's caring for will have a very unhappy childhood. The presence of a rich but likable bachelor (Chris Evans) referred to as Harvard Hottie also helps.
The Nanny Diaries is a fun little film that is funny when it's being dramatic and entertaining when it's being funny, which is all you can really ask for. I liked the "case study" approach the screenplay takes to the story, presumably an extract from the novel. The not-so-subtle removal of some of the character names is quite clever (Mrs. X, Mr. X and Harvard Hottie, specifically), and there are other presentation quirks that work to the film's advantage. While the depiction of upper class women may be a bit stereotypical, The Nanny Diaries is a pleasantly enjoyable story that examines how unhappy some of these women must be.
Johansson is good in the lead and shows that she has moderate comedic timing. The screenplay doesn't demand her to be too funny, but when she has to be, she generally pulls it off. I won't expect to see Johansson in a sitcom anytime soon, but then I doubt she's planning that as a career move anyway. Linney is decent in a supporting role, though she doesn't get much of a character to work with. Giamatti is completely wasted, and you have to wonder what compelled him to take such a small and insignificant role. Evans continues to defy expectations and is one of the highlights of the movie, though his character and his relationship with Johansson seems like an add-on to give the actress something to do - literally and figuratively.
The Nanny Diaries could have taken advantage of its plot to be a bit funnier at times, but overall it is a sweet, harmless film. This isn't going to be one of Johansson's more memorable films, but it never really intended to be something that leaves a strong impact on you. The Nanny Diaries is what it is, an entertaining and cute character study. It's a shame this one didn't garner more success or recognition.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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