The Nanny Diaries could have been many things. It ends up being a lecturing, smug, shallow depiction of yet another ignorant female who sees herself perched from on high as she gazed down in judgment at those who flail selfishly at life. The last time we saw this phenomenon was when Anne Hathaway did it in The Devil Wears Prada. But Prada had Meryl Streep around to tell the writers that just because a woman is powerful and bitchy doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a reason to be.
Poor, poor widdle Annie (Scarlett Johansson). She’s just graduated from college with a business degree and a minor in anthropology. While her long-suffering mother (Donna Murphy) pressures her (making a lot of sense, I might add) to put her degree to good use, Annie chokes on her first job interview. As luck would have it, she saves a little boy from being run down in Central Park and, viola, her new career as a nanny for Upper East Side moms is born.
Annie must lie to her mother, who would no doubt find her job choice out of college somewhat disappointing, but she also gets to move into a luxurious Upper East Side apartment where she is shoved into the nanny room next to the laundry. Poor widdle Annie!
Her boss, referred to as Mrs. X (and played by the brilliant Laura Linney), is written for the film to be the quintessential template for the type of mother who fobs her child off on the nanny 24/7 while she busies herself with such useless activities as the Parrot Society, spas and lunches. The film is mostly made up of scenes where the nanny, with no experience mothering children mind you, is seen being better at loving and caring for the child than the mother could ever hope to be. This is evidenced by the doe-eyed child’s declaration of phrases of devotion like, “I love you best, Nanny” and, “Please don’t ever leave me.”
As in The Devil Wears Prada we’re supposed to side with Annie the whole time and wish her to leave the evil Mrs. X and get on with her fabulous life. But alas, there is no time to feel sorry for Annie because she’s too busy feeling sorry for herself.
As a single mother myself, and one who has always been worried at various times about the electricity being shut off or whether there isn’t enough food for tomorrow’s lunch, I could tell Annie a thing or two about the world of money she so disdains. No, it can’t buy happiness and it can’t replace the wonder and joy of having a relationship with your child, but let’s not kid ourselves. That is what Annie’s mother is trying to tell her and what we’re thinking as Annie condemns the Upper East Side because of its uniformly indifferent parents.
What it doesn’t do, however, is make the even more profound point, one any good anthropologist wouldn’t miss – these women have roles to fulfill. They are the decorative wife or the movie star who still looks so good after four children. Here’s the truth, folks. Raising kids makes you tired. It makes you old. When you aren’t carving wrinkles in your forehead worrying about your child crossing the street or going on a field trip or that fever of 102, you’re washing the grease stains off your t-shirt, buying yet another pair of shoes that are going to be too small in a month, worrying about middle school and, oh god, puberty.
Staying up all night with a crying infant makes you look tired the next day. Ha, if only it ONLY made you look tired. No, it carves out your soul until they are of an age that you can actually sleep. Having a nanny allows that high profile female to maintain the kind of look that is expected of her. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong; it just is.
The film is not boring, however. There is much to enjoy, like Linney’s performance and Paul Giamatti who slums it as the philandering Mr. X. Scarlett Johansson has a near-perfect figure and flawless skin, which should count for something. The interiors are to die for, and every once in a while something will make you laugh.
I’ll admit I liked it more because I knew it was directed by the duo who brought us American Splendor, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman. What I didn’t like was the clichéd, simplistic stereotyping of the Upper East Side mothers and their beleaguered nannies. Believe me, folks, the truer story is far more depressing.