Monday, October 08, 2007

Review: The Nanny Diaries


You know something’s going seriously wrong with a movie when you spend most of it looking forward to the next screening, and that screening is Resident Evil: Extinction. I had no great hopes for The Nanny Diaries, from the American Splendor team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, but no earthly idea that it would be quite this terrible; if my negativity has a trace of glee to it, I would confess that amid a stodgy diet of comparative mediocrities like The Kingdom, Michael Clayton and Death Proof, the sheer awfulness of this childcare comedy actually feels like something worth commenting on.

Imagine lobotomising Sofia Coppola and asking her to remake The Devil Wears Prada for the au pair profession, and you might have something close to this lamebrained mess, but its singular ability to be shrill, smug and amazingly vapid at the same time owes just as much to the casting. Scarlett Johansson is coerced into all her most listless affectations and coy mannerisms – imagine her saying “I was the Chanel bag of nannies” and you can hear how ruinously the film goes down a dim, Sex and the City-fied voiceover route as opposed to, say, being funny, perhaps by adopting any workable comic vocabulary of its own.

Still, a far more precipitous disaster is Laura Linney, as the Upper East Side, murders-as-she-smiles Stepford Wife to whom Scarlett’s Annie becomes summarily indentured. Her brilliantly concise high society gorgon in The House of Mirth gets unpacked into feature-length caricature, swaddled in unwise Christian Dior, trussed up with nonsensical hair, and unleashed, mercilessly, at an audience who want her dead within minutes. Linney, otherwise enjoying a terrific year at the movies, proves not that she can marshal the delicious, grandstanding condescension of a Streep in Prada, but that she’s quite capable of lapsing, in a role this weakly sketched, into the calcified and witchy nastiness of bad Anjelica Huston.

Going on to outdo Igby Goes Down for upscale misanthropy, the movie is mainly enamoured of its luxuriant bedlinen, shoe racks and Chris Evans’s biceps – certainly not of its actual people, who are given mere letters for names (in the case of Linney and Paul Giamatti’s characters, “Mr and Mrs X”) or have them bleeped off screen (that’s Evans, thereafter dubbed “Harvard Hottie”). Don’t ask me if this is to protect the innocent or a way of fessing up to the roles’ obvious one-dimensionality, but, either way, it’s annoying. So’s the framing gimmick with a supposed cross-section of New Yorkers frozen in street tableaux at the Natural History Museum, their genera stencilled on as “Park Slope Lawyer”, “Central Park Bag Lady” and whathaveyou. The movie’s pretensions to anthropological commentary aren’t just glib and childish but a criminally lazy excuse for wall-to-wall stereotyping – if Alicia Keys’s character were among the exhibits, for instance, I can’t imagine what label they’d find for her except “Standard-Issue Black Best Friend”. Annie’s fantasies of floating above the Manhattan skyline, a red umbrella in hand, tip the wink oh-so-knowingly to the doyenne of film nannies, but you’d need a whole crateload of sugar to help this medicine go down. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialatrocious. F

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you watched this movie and are a nanny, you will love to know that there is a new book out for children, titled "My nanny and I".

This is a high quality board book, with lift-the-flaps, and a photo frame where you can personalize it for the children you care for.

Check out www.mynannyandi.com

tim r said...

Creepy!

Nick Davis said...

Great review, and so glad I avoided this... but really, you coulda just written the last word, and I would have laughed.

How long do you think it will take before ScarJo stops getting cast in everything?

And, more optimistically, does The Nanny Diaries bode well for Linney's Oscar chances this year? As you say, she's otherwise having a sensational year, and since Gwyneth won the year she released Hush and Halle won the year she released Swordfish and Charlize won the year she was the worst thing in the very bad Italian Job and Reese won the year she released Just Like Heaven.....

amyw said...

even creepier, tim r, is me and my mission to find a scarf from a film...don't suppose you're the tim r that interviewed jacqueline durran for the telegraph in '05...?

tim r said...

Yes!

Anonymous said...

Ok GOOD then as a real live film expert and journalist (this is so exciting, I have never spoken to one before! gosh, you'll have to excuse my incredible gaucheness) could you possibly tell me how one would get in touch with costume designers - is there a guild of, or do they have agents, like actors, that will forward on mail for you? Or would it be better that I wrote to the production company?
Basically (and I can't believe I'm going through all this hassle) I want to ask where Ms Durran sourced the fabric for 'Pride and Prejudice' as I've inexplicably fallen in love with a scarf. Hours of googling found me an interview with your name on it, so I though you might be able to help...would be eternally grateful!
amy w (bizarrely will only let me publish anonymously)
ps. love the blog also :-D

tim r said...

For present purposes we will simply have to pretend you're Amy Winehouse. The rehab must be working...

I actually have Ms Durran's email from ages ago, so I'll try and find some non-stalkerish way of popping the question. No guarantees, but she's very nice, and may well oblige. Watch this space!

tim r said...

Erm, I suppose I ought to ask who's wearing it first, and in which scene?

Anonymous said...

ooh hurray you are an absolute legend, tim r! and yes probably best to assume I am amy winehouse rather than an overly keen textiles fiend...

it appears for about two minutes when lizzie is talking to mr wickham under a tree just after they have been shopping for ribbons (...a particularly affecting scene) and it's a antiquey dusky pink-brown with a slightly darker brown print on it and is ridiculously lovely. i think it pops up again later on but can't remember where. i'd love to know where it was found!
anything you can find out would be amazing, thank you so much for being so helpful! amy

tim r said...

I did email the other day, but nothing yet...

amyw said...

arg, tension in abundance...
loving new post BUT feeling bemused that i have heard of barely any of the films mentioned, though pretending it's because i'm in spain and the hollywood buzz is slow to reach here...

Anonymous said...

I think that it was a nice and cute movie. My mother said that like a hundred times, but I never took the time to see it. But now I did and I am glad that I have seen it. It tells a remarkble story about love for her neighbour and for a kid she's taking care of as a nanny. Money does not buy you happieness!!! And that's just what the story is about. I would really recommend this movie, because it will blow your mind away. You should really see this movie!!!

Stephanie said...

I think that it was a nice and cute movie. My mother said that like a hundred times, but I never took the time to see it. But now I did and I am glad that I have seen it. It tells a remarkble story about love for her neighbour and for a kid she's taking care of as a nanny. Money does not buy you happieness!!! And that's just what the story is about. I would really recommend this movie, because it will blow your mind away. You should really see this movie!!!