Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti, Alicia Keys, Chris Evans, Donna Murphy, Nicholas Art.
The cliché-ridden "Nanny Diaries," the first feature by writer-directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman since their acclaimed "American Splendor" four years ago, is all about Manhattan splendor: chiefly the real estate porn of the Upper East Side, with its adulterous investment bankers, Bergdorf-lunching wives and bratty kids. It will take a working-class girl from New Jersey to conquer the place and turn its soulless population into feeling people.
Scarlett Johansson, her blonde hair darkened to indicate "down-to-earth person," stars as Annie Braddock, a new college graduate who wants to pursue anthropology; she imagines New York's various social cliques as dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. But, at the urging of her bitter, single mother who wants her to conquer the world, she tries to find work on Wall Street. Bad interviews ensue but a chance meeting in Central Park leads to a job as a full-time nanny for the young son of a Fifth Avenue couple. The wife, named with determined strangeness Mrs. X (Laura Linney), treats Annie like a slave, having the girl do all the mother things she's too busy to be bothered with, what with all the lunches and ladies' group meetings she must organize. (We know something's truly wrong with Mrs. X because she mispronounces "schmooze.") The kid, Grayer (Nicholas Art), is the type who kicks nannies in the shins when they don't accommodate him. Naturally, Annie will "break" him and find his inner angel (he's been through a lot of nannies, she discovers, and whenever he finally gets close to one, she leaves. Aw.).
The rarely seen Mr. X -- he's usually at work scheming to make millions or away in Chicago on business (actually, having an affair with his assistant) -- is played by Paul Giamatti; it's a minor role and Giamatti's taking it reeks of doing a favor to his "American Splendor" directors. Also showing up as generic characters are Alicia Keys, as Annie's best friend from home (she's cool because she never ventures above 14th Street), and Chris Evans, as the sweet "Harvard Hottie" who lives in the same building as the Xes. The moment he and Annie meet cute, you know the rest of the story. We eventually learn that Harvard Hottie also grew up with a string of nannies, and see how forlorn and in need of a nice girl he is? If there's one thing this movie gets absolutely right, it's that wealth is wasted on the rich.
Like the similarly themed but far superior "13 Going on 30" and "Uptown Girls," "The Nanny Diaries," sees Manhattan as Shangri-La and only shows us the good parts. In this Manhattan, it's always sunny and mild, Central Park is always green, and offices and apartments are always large and perfectly furnished. It's all captured beautifully on the 16:9 widescreen picture. The DVD offers Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and Spanish and English subtitles.
Insert the disc and you automatically get an anti-smoking PSA followed by trailers for "Dedication," with Billy Crudup, "Who's Your Caddy?" "The Ex," with Zach Braff," and "Factory Girl." The full-motion main menu offers Play Movie, Setup (to pick subtitles), Scene Selection and Special Features.
The bonuses include "Life at the Top as Seen From the Bottom," an on-location 16-minute featurette with interviews with cast and crew that amount to praise for everyone involved. "Confessions From the Original Nannies," a 22-minute interview with Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, authors of the "Nanny Diaries" novel, is more of the same; not much is "confessed." There is some fun in the blooper reel, in which Laura Linney lets down her Mrs. X cold steel façade and Johansson perfects her pratfalls. You also get the film's original trailer.
This romantic comedy-drama could be called "The Indiscreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." Rarely have Manhattan's superrich inhabitants been presented as such over-the-top, unpleasant caricatures with so little redeeming (or metaphorical) value. And Scarlett Johansson's "It girl" status is seriously compromised by the film's dreary predictability. The girl who was so wise and withering beyond her years in "Ghost World" and "Lost in Translation" (I blame her strident mistress in "Match Point" on Woody Allen) seems to be going in reverse with this flat fluff. The movie looks great on DVD, and young female viewers who consider MTV's "The Hills" to be worthwhile drama will find what they like here. All others, beware.