2007-09-14 / Columnists


'The Nanny Diaries' - Poppins With Prada And Pearl
Review By Robert Snyder

What do "Mary Poppins," "Girl With a Pearl Earring," and "The Devil Wears Prada" have in common?

Answer: Actress Scarlett Johansson in "The Nanny Diaries."

A cutesy, demi-dramatic film version of the Emma McLaughlin-Nichola Kraus novel, "Diaries" is designed by writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini ("American Splendor") as a vehicle for Johansson. Playing reluctant nanny Annie Braddock, Scarlett the starlet pouts under the abusive authority of a bitchy control freak ("Pearl," "Prada"), while fantasizing about umbrella-flying ("Poppins"). The mix of Disney daydream with serious social satire makes for entertaining scene transitions, but dilutes the overall cutting-edge impact.

A college-graduated former anthropology student, Annie frames her voiceover narrative with a reference to the Upper Eastside New York City elite as having a prehistoric-type exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History. In other words, someday the insufferable snobs will be extinct like Neanderthals.

Heading the list of the insufferable are Mr. and Mrs. X (Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney). Mrs. X enlists Annie as a nanny after the girl saves X son, Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art) from a close encounter with a motor scooter in Central Park. Annie doesn't really want to be a nanny, even hiding her employment from her New Jersey nurse mother, Judy Braddock (Donna Murphy), and pretending to be a Wall Street trainee.

Annie's instincts are right. Mr. and Mrs. X are horribly hurtful to themselves and her, while strangely negligent of their boy, who's no prize, either. At one point, Grayer is saved from a deadly fever by Annie and her newlyenlightened mother, while Mrs. X is unavailable. On returning, the upperclass boss barely acknowledges Mrs. Braddock and her sick son, while giving Annie more menial chores. Is this to say that all rich Upper Eastside WASP matrons are queens of mean?

The presence of Mr. X is limited to a few arguments and a couple of blatant sexual indiscretions, one of which is with Annie. This gives Mrs. X a deck of sympathy cards. Big hearted Annie actually feels sorry for her and her little boy, so much so that she forsakes an escape from bondage with Harvard "hottie" (Chris Evans), who lives in the apartment building.

As with "Prada," the central conflict is between the bitch boss and the humanistic working girl. Try as she may, the often-shrill Linney never achieves the ice maiden severity of "Prada's" Streep, a killer with a whisper. Johansson does as well as Anne Hathaway in the sorcerer's apprentice part, where the soul is more at stake than the job.

"The Nanny Diaries" falls short of "Pearl" and "Prada's" tragedy of young girl abuse, while never nearing the high-flying heights of nanny fantasy in "Poppins."

Still, for Scarlett Johansson fans, "Diaries" is worth seeing before it ends up in the American Museum of Natural History.

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