‘Nanny Diaries’ needs a nap

Joe Shearer

Julie Andrews introduced audiences to her portrayal of a nanny in 1964’s Mary Poppins. Andrews was more than a simple caretaker of two children; she showed them a world of adventure and imagination, one their parents could never provide because they were too caught up in other affairs.

Jump to present-day Upper East Side New York City, where Scarlett Johansson takes on the role as nanny Annie Braddock in The Nanny Diaries. Annie introduces the societal characters that inhabit the Upper East Side as if we were seeing them in a museum.

She recently graduated college with a degree in anthropology, but her mother would prefer that she find work in a more realistic (and higher paying) field, such as finance.

Confused, Annie heads to central park when, without warning, she finds herself saving the life of young Grayer X (Nicholas Art). Moments later, a relieved Mrs. X (Laura Linney) expresses her gratitude and mistakes Annie for being a nanny. It’s an easy enough thing to do when you’re Mrs. X: She’s a wealthy woman in dire need of a nanny, and Annie rhymes with, well, you see where this is going. Annie begins work shortly thereafter.

Annie soon finds out that Mrs. X is a fast-thinking, quick-talking control freak who spends more time in classes on parenting than actually parenting. Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) is a cold-hearted womanizer and Grayer, the little boy she saved in the park, is a little hellion.

Things aren’t too different now than they were in 1964, but instead of magical adventures of riding on a merry-go-round in the park, Annie takes Grayer to the Museum of Natural History. Instead of a spoonful of sugar, Grayer indulges in spoonfuls of peanut butter and jelly. Annie even secretly feeds Grayer Cheerios!

OK, so there aren’t any real adventures in Diaries like there are in Poppins, but this isn’t really a remake of the Disney classic despite a couple of references. Diaries, based on the book by former nannies Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, is forced to rely solely on the interactions between characters.

Unfortunately, a real opportunity is missed to further develop the relationship between Annie and Grayer. The kid is cute and could’ve potentially turned in a genuinely sincere performance if given the chance and more screen time by directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (both of whom directed American Splendor).

A romance blossoms between Annie and someone she simply refers to as “Harvard Hottie” (Chris Evans). But there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. The movie may have benefited and appeared less typical had this subplot been dissolved.

Other talents in this film seem wasted. Giamatti and Linney turn in decent performances as Mr. and Mrs. X, but are so detached from any emotion that they fail to connect with or gain any support from the audience. To her credit, Linney nails her lunacy. We don’t know whether to dislike or root for her, but she does exhibit a certain addictive complexity.

Johansson has the right attitude to play her part, but her sarcastic narration generates almost no laughs, which is a real shame because Johansson proved she has a pleasant, dry sense of humor in Ghost World and Lost in Translation.

Even with all of its faults, the underlying message of Diaries is a good one: A child should not be viewed as an accessory to one’s life, rather, parents should take an active role in the raising of their children. Too often these days, parents outsource their responsibilities to anything that will keep their kids occupied.

Ultimately, the film suffers from an identity crisis. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be family movie, a romantic comedy or a feel-good drama. Instead, it tries for all three, but there’s nothing too juicy or interesting in that makes us want to break open the lock on this diary.

Contact all correspondent Joe Shearer at [email protected].