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The Nanny Diaries (2007)

The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/4/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/2/2007

People judge movies in different ways, with most never digging below the "good" or "bad" surface. (Or "it sucked", which seems to be the favorite critique of chat form users.) However, it's often important to look beyond that. I find that I usually examine a film's use of style vs. substance. Some movies have a great story, but suffer artistically, while others uses bravura filmmaking to elevate a shallow story. As a film critic, it's a joy to find a movie which can balance these two components, and The Nanny Diaries certainly fits that description.

Scarlett Johansson stars in The Nanny Diaries as Annie Braddock, a young woman from New Jersey who has just graduated from college with a major in business and a minor in anthropology. She goes for a business job interview in Manhattan, but freezes, as she's not certain what to do with her life. However, her mother, Judy (Donna Murphy), a nurse who struggled to pay for Annie's education, wants Annie to have a career, so Annie lies to her mother and tells her that she got the job. While moping in Central Park, Annie meets a boy named Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art), and his mother, Mrs. X (Larua Linney). Mrs. X mistakes Annie for a nanny and offers her a job...as do many other mothers who overhear their conversation. Annie goes on several nanny job interviews and decides to go to work for Mrs. X, assuming that the job will be an easy way to think about her future while making some money.

Annie is shocked to realize that she has suddenly been put in charge of raising Grayer, as his parents, Mrs. X and Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) ignore him. Mrs. X is often shopping, or attending functions (ironically, she goes to many parenting forums) and Mr. X is busy at work, or flirting with his co-worker. Thus, Annie is left to be in charge of Grayer most of the time. She hates the job, but she quickly grows attached to this bright, sweet child who longs for attention. Annie also meets Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans), a neighbor of The X's, who insists on asking her out. Annie thought that she knew a lot about the world, but soon learns that nothing is as it appears from the outside.

Just like Annie, I learned that things aren't always the way that they seem. Based on the trailer, I assumed that The Nanny Diaries was a one-note movie, but I was impressed to find that the movie works on many levels. First and foremost, the film is a fictionalized expose on the lives of rich families in Manhattan. Going into the job, we get the sense that Annie assumes she'll be sort of a babysitter/tutor, but she quickly learns that Mr. and Mrs. X have no interest in truly raising or caring for their son, but they make sure that he attends all of the proper social events and they want to be sure that he's prepared for academic goals presumably beyond his years. Annie is portrayed as being a very down-to-Earth person and she finds it quite normal to introduce Grayer to activities such as eating peanut butter out of the jar and going to the Museum of Natural History.

Beyond that, the movie also explores the bonds between humans. In retrospect, I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised that Annie becomes attached to Grayer, but I was, mostly due to the fact that the kid is seen as a brat when we first meet him. This adds another dimension to the film. The audience says, "Why doesn't she quit?" and Annie's best friend, Lynette (Alicia Keys), says, "Why don't you quit?" and Annie explains that she can't because she sees herself as the only person looking out for the boy. This revelation helps to define Annie's character. Her altruistic view of the job makes her much more well-rounded and it helps us to understand her actions throughout the movie. But, because she doesn't quit the job doesn't mean that she doesn't resent it, and this makes her all the more human.

The multi-tiered writing in the film is accentuated by the creative direction of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, a team which normally makes documentaries. Now, I haven't read the novel on which The Nanny Diaries is based, so I don't know how much if any of this came from the book, but Berman and Pulcini have taken a very clever approach to the look of the film. Working off of Annie's love for anthropology, the movie opens with an examination of the inhabitants of Manhattan as if they were exhibits in the Museum of Natural History (however, I didn't see Agent Pendergast lurking about...). From there, Annie often sees the world as though it was a field guide. Some may find this distracting, but I felt that these novel scenes helped The Nanny Diaries rise above similarly-themed movies.

At first glance, The Nanny Diaries may look like a chick-flick or a light comedy, but it reveals itself to be much more. The movie takes a comedic look at very serious topic and the results are both funny and touching. Johannsson is very good in the lead, and as she's played very confident women before, she's wonderful at being flummoxed by Mrs. X's bizarre demands. The film will satisfy those looking for a semi-serious film which takes a serious approach towards filmmaking.

The Nanny Diaries has a playdate on DVD courtesy of The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks good, as it's relatively free from grain and there are no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, most notably the reds and greens. The shots in Central Park show a nice depth. However, some shots are lacking in detail and I noted pixellating around some on-screen objects. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven dramedy, the audio effects aren't overwhelming, but there are some nice stereo and surround effects from the Manhattan street noises.

The Nanny Diaries only contains a few extras, which is a shame, as I wanted to know more about some of the filmmaking decisions which went into the movie. "Life at the Top as Seen from the Bottom: The Making of The Nanny Diaries" (17 minutes) is the standard featurette which offers comments from the cast and filmmakers discussing the story and the characters. The actors talk about the directors. There is a look at the location shooting in New York. We get a lot of behind-the-scenes footage here. In "Confessions from the Original Nannies: The Authors of the Bestselling Book" (22 minutes) Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin talk about the origins of the book and their own experiences as nannies. They reveal that the characters aren't based on any one family. They discuss their writing process and what it was like to have the book adapted into a movie. The last two extras are "Bloopers" (4 minutes) and a THEATRICAL TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long