What we have here is an average film based on what I’m told is a great little bestseller, The Nanny Diaries. There’s a lot of talent at work in this romantic dramedy, with stars like Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation), Laura Linney (Kinsey) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways), and the directing talents of husband-and-wife team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor), so I expected more.
But are there any disappointments lurking on this widescreen DVD? Read on to find out.
The Nanny Diaries is a coming-of-age story about a young woman, Annie (Johansson), who’s just graduated college and can’t take the pressure of her apparently bright future. While her mom expects her to forget about minor interests like anthropology and give it all for a career in finance, Annie’s doesn’t know what she wants. You know what Annie needs? She needs to “find herself,” like so many self-absorbed 20-something kids today. Lucky for her, a chance encounter at a park offers just such an opportunity, to become a nanny for an affluent upper-east side New York family. It seems like a great job — easy, fun and the perfect diversion from her impending future. But she has to keep it secret from her mom, because mom would never understand.
So Annie-the-nanny goes to work for the Mr. and Mrs. X, taking care of their son, Grayer (Nicholas Art, Syriana). Unfortunately for Annie, she learns right away that the job is a lot more Devil Wears Prada than Mary Poppins. Mrs. X, a composite of self-centred upper-east side moms who pawn off any and all child-rearing duties to their nannies, treats Annie like trash. Grayer’s better, though, as he quickly becomes attached to Annie, making the prospect of quitting the gig so much harder. Oh, and Annie meets “Harvard Hottie,” a guy who lives in the same building, but whom she’s forbidden to date (it’s part of her nanny contract).
That’s the setup, and you can pretty much write the rest yourself. Heck, maybe you’d do a better job with the ending, because this version certainly leaves much to be desired. It takes a decent premise and makes it jump through all of the standard hoops, and the final leaps make for a decidedly disjointed finish. That’s the first problem. The second is the complete lack of a believable romantic connection between Annie and Harvard Hottie. It should represent what the audience is hoping for, but it’s so weak in comparision with the nanny situation that it’s just a distraction, at least after the initial, highly amusing meeting.
On the bright side, the acting is enjoyable, with Linney proving to be the best thing going for The Nanny Diaries. She brings a lot of depth to a character that could really have been a superficial cliché, and it’s a great counter-balance to Johansson’s physically comedic performance. Even young Art does a job as Grayer, making us believe he’s really fallen for his new nanny. As for Giamatti, it’s too bad he didn’t have more to do, because it’s fun to watch him play a powerful, egotistical jackass.
So The Nanny Diaries is hit-and-miss, proving once again that a bestselling novel does not automatically make for a blockbuster hit. I hope fans of the book will be disappointed with this movie, because otherwise the book probably doesn’t deserve its success.
The Nanny Diaries is presented on one disc, in 1.78:1 widescreen format. Apart from a few non-retail screener review discs, this DVD has the worst video presentation I’ve seen all year. You’ll notice immediately that something’s wrong, as there are compression artifacts on nearly every quick motion in the movie, from head turns to running down the street. It happens throughout the entire film, and while I suppose you get used to it after a while, there are enough relatively motion-less scenes to make bring attention to the issue over and over again. But hey, aside from this, the film looks pretty good. But that’s not nearly good enough.
The sound fares much better. Main audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and while it’s pretty much average for a modern DVD, it feels like a relief in the face of the disc’s problematic video presentation. The sound of The Nanny Diaries, like that of most romantic comedies, is the cinematic equivalent of easy listening. Plenty of dialogue, a little music and minimal sound effects. Everything here sounds nice and clear, so I have no complaints.
5.1 audio is also available in French, while subtitles are offered in English, French and Spanish.
The Nanny Diaries offers a decent selection of bonus material, at least enough to satisfy fans looking for a little behind-the-scenes discussion. Here’s the to-watch list:
- Life at the Top as Seen from the Bottom: The Making of The Nanny Diaries: that’s a long title for a short-ish featurette. At about 15 minutes, this is your usual making-of piece, which has plenty of self-congratulating amongst the cast and crew, and not a lot of honest depth.
- Confessions from the Original Nannies: The Authors of the Bestselling Book: at 22 minutes, this is the beefiest featurette on the menu. It’s an interview with Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus, who discuss the origin of the book, their writing process and their own experiences as nannies in New York’s upper east side.
- Bloopers: five minutes of goofs and gags, which aren’t particularly funny, but might be amusing enough to watch through at least once.
- Theatrical trailer: see how the film was promoted. It’s one of the more accurate trailers I’ve seen in a while, but it also shows too much.
I didn’t expect to like The Nanny Diaries all that much, and I didn’t. While my expections likely influenced the result, it’s also clear that the film is only an average entry into its genre. If you’re a fan, watch out for this disc’s problematic video, which really detracts from the viewing experience.