We're going to be honest: We've sorta been looking forward to the release of the film version of The Nanny Diaries. Our hatred of Scarlett Johansson + our love of Laura Linney + the endless intrigue surrounding the world of nannying + so-so chick lit = Perverse fascination. But today the critics have spoken: The movie blows. Hard. Although we'll make up our own minds after hitting a weekend screening tomorrow afternoon, here are the critical "highlights" from around the country.
LOCKED down in a celluloid prison cell marked "The Nanny Diaries" for 105 punishingly awful minutes, I was seconds away from crying "Attica" and leading a tactical assault on the projectionist's booth when the words "The End" appeared on screen. I rocketed out of my seat as though wearing a jet pack.
In "The Nanny Diaries," the sublime Linney takes the most reprehensible of icons, the snooty, privileged, controlling Upper East Side rhymes-with-rich, and delivers a masterpiece of Cruella De Vil-level toxin as the Park Avenue hostess with the leastest, Mrs. X. She becomes the woman you love to hate. But — this is the greatness of Linney — she also gives you a glimpse of the forces that crushed her into such monstrous certitude. It's funny, it's sad, it's real. Too bad, alas, the rest of the movie isn't.
Because "The Nanny Diaries" is essentially a two-character story whose supporting players are wooden props, it would help if the actors playing the two were evenly matched. But Ms. Johansson's Annie, who narrates the movie in a glum, plodding voice, is a leaden screen presence, devoid of charm and humor. With her heavy-lidded eyes and plump lips, Ms. Johansson may smolder invitingly in certain roles, but "The Nanny Diaries" is the latest in a string of films that suggest that this somnolent actress confuses sullen attitudinizing with acting.
One has to wonder what kind of movie about a nanny focuses entirely on a woman like Annie. The movie explains that as a young, single, white, American college graduate, she's extremely eligible. "The Chanel bag of nannies," Annie puts it. And Hispanic, Caribbean, Indian, and Irish women throw in their two cents, but the filmmakers seem uncomfortable with the surrounding racial, social, and class politics. Admittedly, the brief shot of a nanny and her charge at a costume party dressed as Condoleezza Rice and little George W. Bush is quite a statement....The movie's banal fantasies badly chafe any anthropological consideration of what a girl should do with her career. This isn't life. It's Lifetime.
Curiously, the most compelling (if only half-formed) idea here has less to do with class than with parenting—how parents can, out of fear or selfishness or both, abdicate the responsibility of child-rearing to self-appointed experts and Ivy League grade schools, and how when a marriage goes south, children can become assets akin to investment accounts or property deeds. That's a rich subject for a film, but instead The Nanny Diaries gives us a half-cocked martyr movie about a plucky prole sticking it to the corrupt bourgeoisie: Joan of (Central) Park.
More boring still is Nanny's love interest, the Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans), a blandly handsome stick figure who serves no purpose other than to give our heroine a shot at the life she's come to know and love-hate. And lest we think Nanny a hypocrite in the making, we're informed that H.H.'s life hasn't been quite as charmed as his address and educational background would suggest. Sure, he was raised by nannies, but it's because his mother died. (Otherwise, surely. . . )
Satire should be knife-sharp and whip-smart, and The Nanny Diaries never is....Johansson, displaying flustered mannerisms that smack of one too many Woody Allen projects, goes about all this like the hopeful protagonist of a sitcom pilot. That is, attractive, amorphous, bland.
Frankly, there's something painful about watching Scarlett Johansson, who looks as if she never had an indecisive moment in her life, struggle to seem ineffectual. As Annie, a recent college graduate who falls into nannying, she plays a young woman who doesn't know who she is or what she wants. To make that seem even possible, Johansson tries to drain her eyes of all traces of intelligence, ego and self-assertion and even goes around with her mouth open half the time. The result is that the actress robs herself of about 90 percent of her appeal onscreen - and yet she still isn't convincing.