Combustible Celluloid
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With: Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Alicia Keys, Chris Evans, Paul Giamatti, Nicholas Art, Donna Murphy, Brande Roderick, Cady Huffman, Nathan Corddry, Sakina Jaffrey, Heather Simms, Alison Wright, Judith Roberts, Nina Garbiras, Julie White, James Urbaniak
Written by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, from the novel by Emma McLaughlin, Nicola Kraus
Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language
Running Time: 105
Date: 08/24/2007

The Nanny Diaries (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Kooks and Nannies

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new movie The Nanny Diaries carries the residue of something much harsher, something that was once there and scrubbed clean, like a hotel sheet held under a black light. On their previous film, American Splendor (2003), the filmmaking team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini effectively lightened up the harsh, cynical world of Harvey Pekar, making spending time with a sourpuss more compelling than depressing. But their new movie has been scrubbed a bit too much; the sharp edge is gone.

Admittedly, The Nanny Diaries is more ambitious than it initially looks. Based on Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin's 2002 novel, a staple of the so-called "Chick Lit" movement, the new film begins not as a cute rom-com, but instead with a few nasty stabs at wealthy Manhattan mothers and their chilly lack of mothering. Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) is a confused college grad with an interest (and a minor) in anthropology. She imagines her subjects as frozen mannequins in a museum, and Berman and Pulcini indulge her fantasies with nifty bits of CGI. By accident, Annie meets her main test subject, Mrs. X (Laura Linney), in Central Park and agrees to be nanny to her son, Grayer (Nicholas Art). (When she introduces herself as "Annie," Mrs. X hears "nanny.") Annie documents the entire experience like a study, although, all too obviously, she becomes too emotionally involved to retain her sense of credibility.

Part of the problem is Harvard Hottie (the terminally bland Chris Evans), who lives in Mrs. X's building, and whom Annie's employer frowns upon dating. He's not much of a prize, more or less representing the movie's tendency to buckle, to swap satire for cuddly comforts. Annie's museum installations and cutting narration eventually dwindle as she learns about everyone's good, soft center (a similar fadeout happened to The Devil Wears Prada and About a Boy). This tactic ruins Linney's canny performance, causing her to go completely limp by the final act, and Johansson seems largely uninspired by the spongy, evenly lit filmmaking. At least Pekar understood and embraced his dark side, even in the face of overwhelming goodness. The Nanny Diaries

DVD Details: The DVD from the Weinstein Company comes with two featurettes, a making-of" (17 minutes), and an interview with the authors of the original book (22 minutes). There are also four minutes of bloopers and a trailer. The film is mastered in 5.1 English and French, and there are optional English and Spanish subtitles.

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