The Nanny Diaries
"The Nanny Diaries" asks the question, can anyone in their right mind will themselves to be an absolute doormat - you know, 'Go ahead, step on me.' 'No, no, do it again,' 'Let me wipe those feet for you so this time you can jump up and down on me.' Well, that's "The Nanny Diaries," and although it tries to make it seem as though this was only an example of anthropology at work, as in we're studying an exotic species, called Upper East Side Matrons, it's truly embarrassing to watch.
Scarlett Johansson is Annie Braddock, the doormat and Laura Linney is Mrs. X, - not to be given any other name in the film. She is the embodiment of classic upper east side wives and mothers - that is, she's rich, she shops, she has meetings, she's afraid of losing her husband Paul Giamatti, who's busy having an affair with someone else, she works poor Scarlett 24-seven, and just doesn't bother with her own son, a six-year-old named Grayer.
Annie has just graduated from college and has come from a bad interview at Goldman-Sachs, where she realizes she doesn't know what to do with her life. She's hired as a nanny for Grayer and the torture begins. Poor Annie lies to her mother about her job, she submits to every bizarre demand Mrs. X makes - dressing up like Betsy Ross for a July 4th party, cancelling what remains of her own life to be at Mrs. X's beck and call, and - most unlikely - refusing to have anything to do with the guy who lives upstairs, whom she calls the Harvard Hottie, because she thinks she's not in his class.
Now I was a west-side kid and no one hates the east side more than I do, in fact my cousin the songwriter wrote a wonderful song about the snobbiness of the east side, but this is a film that's so over-the-top in its depiction of nanny-land and upper-east-side wives that we end up not believing in any of it. One reason is that Scarlett Johansson has made a career of being the object rather than the subject of her films; in "Match Point" and "Scoop" and "The Girl with the Pearl Earring," and for that matter in "Lost in Translation" she has little or no personality to show us; she just reacts instead of initiating action. In a sense she's the perfect person to play the nanny, but that's just the problem; she's so passive we just want to shake her and tell her to grow up.
The team of directors of the film, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, made the fascinating, very oddball misxture of documentary and fiction "American Splendor" three years ago, and I can understand their interest in wanting to make a more Hollywood feature this time; we can only hope that their next film will be a little more eccentric than this one.