Fascinated by the pecking order in Upper East Side Manhattan, aimless graduate Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) spies an opportunity when she’s mistaken for a nanny. Moving from New Jersey to take up a post in a rich household, she soon gets a bird’s-eye view thanks to her preening, self-obsessed employer, Mrs ‘X’ (Laura Linney). Looking after son Grayer is just the first of Annie’s tasks as her boss’s demanding nature becomes apparent. Annie can’t get a day off, has to cancel her personal life, and woe betide her if she forms a relationship.
If it sounds familiar, it should: Annie’s unreasonable, socially powerful boss is much like Meryl Streep’s character in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. But ‘The Nanny Diaries’ doesn’t have the perky pacing or witty punch of last year’s hit chick flick. The tone is confused: Annie has daydreams about flying up into the sky like Mary Poppins (one of many references to the iconic nanny film), but these aren’t whimsical enough to deliver – a stilted distraction from the innocent-abroad comedy. Johansson is merely capable as the slightly frumpy Annie.
Saving the day is Linney as the socialite who has it all – apart from the attention of her distant husband (Paul Giamatti). She makes simple scenes genuinely affecting, belying her icy exterior with a hint of excitement when dressing up for an anniversary date you just know is going to leave her crestfallen. The conclusion is desperately trite, but Linney’s performance helps this comedy – based on a novel by two nannies, take note – feel like a credible peek behind very expensive curtains.