The Nanny Diaries
(directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini)
For a while there it seemed like the book-reading public couldn't get enough of those thinly veiled New York-centric roman à clefs. There weren't very well-written but hoo boy were they juicy. Fortunately as these fluffy chick novels and insider smack downs like The Devil Wears Prada and now The Nanny Diaries have begun to make their way to the silver screen, they've proven to be better as movies than they were as books. Most of the credit for The Nanny Diaries surprising levels of wit and entertainment value is probably due to the writer/director team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who previously wrote and directed American Splendor, the excellent Harvey Pekar movie with Paul Giamatti.
Berman and Pulcini focus the crux of Diaries on Scarlett Johansson's character Annie the nanny's coming of age story. By adding the detail that Annie studied anthropology in college before becoming an Upper East Side nanny, they turn her vaguely whining employment observations from the book into questions about her identity as a woman and couch them in charming anthropological observations. They even construct clever dioramas inside the Natural History Museum depicting specimens like The Tribeca Fashionista and The Wall Street Office Worker for Annie to earnestly study. The movie also contains strong performances by Johansson, who tones down her vavavoomness in a believable way, and the always wonderful Laura Linney, as the evil employer Mrs. X, who transforms into a very passable facsimile of a lady who lunches. Most of the smaller characters are played well too from singer Alicia Keyes as Annie's Jersey friend to Giamatti as the cartoonish business mogul, Mr. X. Too bad the casting director interrupted their winning streak by hiring the very bland Chris Evans to play Annie's love interest. He definitely lowers the movie from Potentially Great status down to just Solidly Diverting.
Other new movies coming to local theaters this weekend include Samuel L. Jackson as a homeless former boxer in Resurrecting the Champ, a new Jet Li/Jason Statham ass-kicking aptly titled War, another Rowan Atkinson silly-fest for the kiddies Mr. Bean's Holiday, actor Justin Theroux's directorial debut Dedication, a period drama about renegade Mormons called September Dawn, a horror flick about dirty bombs Right at Your Door and actor Ethan Hawke's film adaptation of his novel The Hottest State.