Like The Devil Wears Prada, last summer’s assistant-lit adaptation, The Nanny Diaries exists simply to shoot fish in a barrel. Then again, the former had Meryl Streep; all the latter gives us is dead fish.
Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who made cartoons come to life in American Splendor, The Nanny Diaries continues the couple’s fascination with the two-dimensional—and with Paul Giamatti, here ludicrously cast as the power-mad, negligent Park Avenue paterfamilias. In Berman and Pulcini’s script (diverging from Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’s 2002 novel), the caretaker (Johansson) drops down a class rung and hails from Jersey; she graduates not from NYU with a degree in child development but from Montclair State University, with a major in business and a minor in anthropology.
That social science clumsily becomes the film’s leitmotif: Dioramas of Upper East Side moneyed monstrosities pop up endlessly; Nanny refers to her “field notes” in voiceover; Coming of Age in Samoa is placed prominently. Nanny would do better to pick up a copy of The Marx-Engels Reader (and ScarJo might want to consider ordering An Actor Prepares). After a fleeting yet potent reminder of the exploitation that immigrant full-time help often face, the film eventually gives the discreet harm of the bourgeoisie a pass, as even Laura Linney’s Dior-draped gorgon is redeemed. As for our heroine’s own economic future, at film’s end she’s busily applying to graduate school in anthropology—her first step toward a life saddled with crippling debt.
Cast and crew