Knight at the Movies Archives
A Deja Vu of a Chick Flick, an old fashioned thriller
If the relationship between ice queen Laura Linney as a Manhattan WASP witch and open mouthed Scarlett Johansson as her latest
child care provider in The Nanny Diaries seems more than a tad familiar thank a string of similar films also chronicling the
calamitous relationship between an über diva and her put upon (but morally superior) inferior. Especially thank last year’s The Devil
Wears Prada, another Manhattan based chick flick (based, like Diaries, on a chick lit bestseller) in which frosty Meryl Streep as a
fashion editor indoctrinated sweet (but smart) Anne Hathaway into the dark side of power and fame. The similarities, given the
locale of both films and the trajectory of their stories, almost make them seem to have come from the same source. It’s no stretch
to suggest that if you dug Prada, The Nanny Diaries will satisfy. And even more than Prada the movie has been shaped to offer
audiences the old fashioned chance to luxuriate in the trappings of New York’s super wealthy and feel superior to these soulless
privileged folks at the same time.
The movie begins with an old but workable device. As Johansson’s character Annie Braddock, a student of anthropology, narrates we
see several history museum dioramas tracing the traditional role of women and their child care providers in tribal cultures ending, of
course, with the variety of species residing in Manhattan, the “stone jungle” (to borrow a phrase from All About Eve). Annie has just
graduated from college and though she gets a chance to interview with a high powered brokerage that could give her a leg up in the
business world (at the urging of her mother played by Donna Murphy), she’s not sure that’s what she wants. A chance meeting with
Grayer (Nicholas Art) a seemingly sweet little boy in Central Park and Linney as his mother (referred to as Mrs. X) leads to a flurry of
nanny interviews. But Mrs. X has more panache and skill in wheedling the first timer Annie into accepting a job as a full time nanny
(this done as a subtle, mournful version of “Chim Chim Cheree” from Mary Poppins plays on the soundtrack). Annie insists to her
best friend Lynette (Alicia Keyes) that the job is temporary at best and lying to her mother that she’s interning at a big brokerage,
Naturally, the kid’s a nightmare and the job is hell from the get go although Annie does meet a Harvard hottie (Chris Evans who
unfortunately keeps his shirt on) stepping off the elevator as she’s moving into the X’s luxurious residence. Mrs. X is a parody of
the impossibly demanding of one sort but it is her husband (played by Paul Giamatti) who really takes the cake. Giamatti utilizes
the extra girth to his frame to great effect, hunching down into his expensive suits like a tortoise and tersely speaking his orders.
Giamatti’s baron of privilege with the massive ego reminds one of a cagey reptile, unblinking and uncaring of those around him. His
horridness offers Linney the chance to bringing shading to her icy character and momentarily gives Annie hope that perhaps she can
convince her thoughtless employer to change her demanding ways.
The movie starts out like the book – a broad satire – but eventually falls victim to the standard Hollywood morality tale in which
lessons will be learned and lives improved, redeemed, or pitied for their lack of ability to grow. Annie will get a chance to have her
say (via a strategically placed “nanny cam” placed inside a bear) and her words will have the intended effect. The film’s patently
false ending offers audiences what has traditionally been a much more satisfying (and much faker) version of things – but its at the
expense of what has made the material compelling to begin with and doesn’t begin to work tacked on to a Wicked Stepmother vs.
Cinderella movie like this one.
Whether it’s Streep as The Devil Who Wears Prada, Faye Dunaway as Mommie Dearest or Cruella devil in 101 Dalmations, these divine
Gorgons aren’t about to change their tune for any one – and canny audiences will ferret out that the change of heart in The Nanny
Diaries is due less to Linney’s character than to the iron whim of a nameless Hollywood executive who has decreed that it must
happen and not one of these She Devils could withstand that kind of pressure.
Everyone I’ve raved to about a French thriller called Them (which has an exclusive run at Chicago's Piper Alley beginning this Friday)
over the last week or so has said with curiosity, “The movie about the giant ants?” No, and any confusion over the too familiar title
hopefully won’t keep people from experiencing this delicious little 77 minute exercise in suspense – it gives the word “them” a whole
new meaning that has nothing to do with ants.
Clémentine and Lucas, a young French couple, live in a huge, rambling house in the country who one night, to their horror, learn that
there’s something evil out there in the surrounding woods and it wants to come in. Right now. The movie, in the grand “haunted
house” tradition lies on good old fashioned suspense rather than gore to earn its chills. Once the suspense takes hold it never lets
up and the movie, based on a true story, has a great twist ending. As a huge fan of the genre, I’m happy to add this straight
forward thriller to my must list of “hide your eyes” movies.
Everything Old is Here Again:
The Nanny Diaries-Them
8-22-07 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.