Based on the novel by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus and written & directed by Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, "The Nanny Diaries" is something of an odd follow-up to the Berman & Pulcini's "American Spelendor", the biopic of cartoonist Harvey Pekar (which starred Paul Giamatti.) The film focuses on Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson), a recent graduate of NYU with a B.A. in finance with a minor in anthropology.
While her mother (Donna Murphy) tries to get her to take a job in high finance, things don't work out when the interview goes South on her. Wondering what life has in store for her, she eventually stumbles into a job working for Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) and Mrs. X (Laura Linney) and taking care of five-year-old son Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art). While the gig as a nanny working for an Upper East Side family at first seems like a dream gig, it's not long into the proceedings that she realizes that she's in over her head, dealing with two distant adults.However, despite initial tension, she eventually begins to warm up to Grayer.
As it becomes more difficult to deal with Mr. and Mrs. X, Annie finds it difficult to leave Grayer, who she's formed a friendship with and who clearly is being ignored by her parents - his father is having an affair and his mother is too caught up with her high society functions to even notice her child. At the core of the situation, Annie quickly realizes that Grayer is a very unhappy little kid. There's also the matter of a completely unnecessary romance with the X's nextdoor neighbor (Chris Evans) and occasional appearances by Annie's pal, Lynette (Alicia Keys, enjoyable in a pretty thankless role.)
Linney is fine as a troubled woman who tries to make it look like she's holding everything together - just barely - by a stiff smile and high intensity. It's a mean, villainous role and Linney turns it up to 11 - this is a completely unsympathetic character and it may have been a more interesting character had she dialed it down just a notch. The Evans character isn't much nicer, although he's presented as such: the character is entirely smug, and we wonder why Annette has any interest.
As for Johansson, she's okay in the role: she's good in scenes with Art, but she's a little timid - it takes this character too long to say anything about the situation - and bland otherwise. She does put on an absolutely bizarre dance (sort of the Scarlett Johansson version of the Elaine dance from "Seinfeld") to "Freedom" in a car early in the movie, though. Giamatti's character is supposed to be off having affairs, but he's gone so much that the character's really not in the movie all that much.
Overall, "Nanny Diaries" is simply a nice little, conventional dramedy that really didn't make much of an impression on me. It's really one of those instances where I'd almost rather have hated the picture, as at least that way I'd feel something about it instead of being so completely indifferent towards it.
The performances are good enough, the drama is just involving enough and everything gets wrapped up fairly quickly - although I'm not sure how much I quite bought the happy ending, which seemed a bit abrupt. The film is watchable, but it lacks a certain something to make it stick with you for very long after the credits roll.
VIDEO: "Nanny Diaries" is presented by Weinstein Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is very good, although falls a bit short of greatness. Sharpness and detail are mostly pleasing, although a few scenes can seem somewhat softer than the rest. Some minor edge enhancement and artifacting is present in a few scenes, but no print flaws were spotted, and the majority of the film looked clean. Colors looked bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: "Nanny Diaries" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. As one might expect, the film's sound design is standard and straightforward, with little in the way of surround usage. Audio quality is fine, with crisp, clear dialogue and score.
EXTRAS: "Life At the Top As Seen From the Bottom: The Making of 'The Nanny Diaries'" "Confessions From the Original Nannies: The Authors of the Bestselling Book", bloopers and trailer. The featurettes have a few insightful interviews, but are average (read: rather thin) promotional pieces overall. A commentary from the pair of directors on what it was like to move from "American Splendor" to this film would have been interesting.
Final Thoughts: "The Nanny Diaries" is a passably entertaining drama/comedy with reasonably good performances and some moving moments. However, while elements of the movie worked quite well (such as Johansson's scenes with her young co-star), the rest of the movie is largely forgettable. Rent it.