As far as predictable, lighthearted summer films go, “The Nanny Diaries” is no masterpiece, but it is far from the bottom of the barrel.
Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have followed their previous film, “American Splendor,” with a more commercial entry. Scarlett Johansson stars as Annie Braddock, a recent college graduate facing a career crisis. After a random meeting with a New York socialite and her rambunctious child in Central Park, she accepts a job as a nanny.
Predictably, it is not the dream job she hoped for. The child is a spoiled brat, the mother (Laura Linney) is self-obsessed and demanding, and the father (Paul Giamatti) only returns from business trips to berate his family and sexually harass his servants.
Most critics have taken the easy road and simply compared it to last summer’s “The Devil Wears Prada.” The comparison is not without merit, but numerous comic devices make “The Nanny Diaries” more like a sitcom and less like a serious memoir.
Johannson’s narration presents the inhabitants of New York’s upper East side in the context of an anthropological field study. In a series of museum exhibits, we see the fathers playing golf and receiving lap dances, the mothers lounging at the spa and getting nose jobs, while the children remain safe and sound with an ethnically diverse collection of nannies.
Throw in a few overbearing “Mary Poppins” references, anonymous titles like “Harvard Hottie” for key characters and a cathartic confrontation with a nanny cam hidden inside of a teddy bear, and the film becomes lighthearted enough to please a wide audience.
Giamatti and Linney turn in predictably excellent performances, even though their characters are decidedly one-dimensional. Johansson, whose film credits include numerous hits and misses, is likable without being too whiny.
Characters in this type of film have a habit of feeling a bit too sorry for themselves, but Johannson plays it cool without coming off as disengaged.
Most of the characters are poorly developed, and the story is entirely too predictable, but if you are willing to lower your expectations to the adequate level of chick flick mindlessness, you could do a lot worse than “The Nanny Diaries.”