A review of “The Nanny Diaries” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: * 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

 

 

The perfectly amusing beach read of the same name has been reworked into a short-sighted comedy that screams straight to video.

Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) is a fresh-faced college grad with no idea of where she’s going or wants to go. A chance collision with a small boy in Central Park offers her a temporary opportunity to duck out of real-life and play nanny.

Not just any nanny but an Upper East Side child-minder to a precocious tot named Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art) whose neglectful parents are too preoccupied to realize their hectic lives are a virtual train-wreck.

It’s a world of me-first; of guaranteeing your pre-programmed kid gets ahead by sticking to a high soy diet, speaking perfectly-accented French and touring museums instead of local parks.

The purveyors of Grayer’s ritualistic existence are Mr. and Mrs. “X” (Laura Linney and a badly miscast Paul Giamatti). Mrs. X is an uptight socialite who spends her days shopping, spa-ing and serving on boards while Mr. X is busy at work, canoodling with a co-worker and keeping as far away from home as possible.

No surprises here. As Annie and Grayer develop a tight bond she is disheartened with the pain and suffering Grayer suffers at the hands of his self-absorbed folks. All the Mommy and Me and Nanny Conflict Resolution Seminars in the world can’t help the Xs.

Naturally there’s futile romance thrown in for good measure, a burgeoning flirtation with the “Harvard Hottie” (Chris Evans) across the hall. To be sure Annie will learn a few hard lessons about herself or why else bother?

A bevy of respectable talent is uselessly squandered in clumsy efforts at cunning, humor and pathos. Johansson seems distinctly uncomfortable spouting pages of formulaic chestnuts and Giamatti is a bad fit for a closed-up monotone of a man. Only Linney steps out of the box with a refreshingly fearsome portrayal of a woman whose natural instincts have been botoxed to a pulp.

How to take pleasingly penned satire and butcher it for the big screen? Let me count the ways. Soak it in clichés, base the narrative on a series of stupid stereotypes and film the lot with maximum telegraphing and clunky transitions. Add a chirpy voice-over declaring the entire operation an anthropological field study and you’ve got yourself a summer dust-eater.