"American Splendor" directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini take on Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus’ chick-lit roman Ã clef about a nanny’s involvement with a monstrous Upper East Side family, and, according to most reviews, no one in "The Nanny Diaries" emerges the winner. "Especially at the beginning of ‘The Nanny Diaries’ there are signs that
its directing and writing team had a different movie in mind," notes the New York Times‘ Stephen Holden, who finds, regardless, the film "consists mostly of soapsuds," its sole saving grace Laura Linney as Mrs. X, the mother of Annie (Scarlett Johansson) charge. David Edelstein at New York agrees on Linney, though he also finds that "in some ways, she kills the comedyâ€”poor Mrs. X is so obviously suffering. (In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep didnâ€™t let the flickers of humanity upstage the mythic bitchery.)" (He ultimately deems that film "a grim slog.") Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club also lauds the Linney: "Without her presence as a snooty Upper East Side mother in The Nanny Diariesâ€”a crisp, though conventional, adaptation of Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’ popular novelâ€”the film might have been little more than a collection of broad comic stereotypes and family-values sentiment."
Roger Ebert sums the film up as "sort of bland and obvious and comfortable. Nobody is really despicable enough, a mistake Tom Wolfe would never have made." The Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum agrees that its satirical "audacity turns out to be deceptive and formulaic." Dana Stevens at Slate points out that despite all "The Nanny Diaries" has going for it, "watching the movie is a nonexperienceâ€”like the Upper East Side apartment where most of the action takes place, it’s lavishly appointed but joyless":
Social satireâ€”especially class satire of the sort this movie clumsily attemptsâ€”thrives on texture and detail… But instead of fleshing out Annie’s field journal with specifics, The Nanny Diaries gestures vaguely at archetypes familiar from other movies and TV shows: the Type-A supermom; the soulless, workaholic father; the Manolo-mad working girl. Rather than making you laugh, it’s content to remind you of things that might have made you laugh in 1998, if you had a high tolerance for Sex and the City.
At Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman adds
Springer Berman and Pulcini embark on their anthro-expedition to the Upper East Side wielding poison daggers. Their sympathies are still with the working class â€” didactically so. Yes, there are wealthy New Yorkers as toxic as the X’s, but by making them so one-dimensional that it threatens to strain the word dimension, The Nanny Diaries becomes as flaccid and predictable as something you’d expect from Hollywood hacks.
Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly is more generous with the filmmakers, allowing that the film is "a largely faithful adaptation that nevertheless manages to improve upon the source material in several key respects," though the pair "can spin only so much cinematic silk from literary leather." Ed Gonzalez at Slant, after sharing about his fondness for Chris Evans, notes that "at least Annie considers the lifestyle of her employers… with an interesting mixture of jealousy and revulsion." And Armond White at the New York Press unexpectedly (okay, not really unexpectedly) likes the film, seeing in it the drama of "a young womanâ€™s attempt to figure out her humanity," and writing that the filmmakers "movie cultureâ€™s unspoken taboo against class consciousness" and "comfortably deal with how race and class affect their charactersâ€™ ambitions and romantic lives."
And, since we gave just her "The Black Dahlia" romantic pairing a closer look, here’s one at ScarJo and her less complemented turn:
Stevens: "As for the inexpressive Johansson, she continues to prove that, though she can be charming as the passive object of others’ desire, her ability to carry a movie on her own is easily lost in translation."
Holden: "But Ms. Johanssonâ€™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."
Edelstein: "But Johansson is even less of a comedian. Sheâ€™s funny when she uses her drugged sexiness to convey lazy entitlement, as in Ghost World. But peppy and eager to please is a stretch. Sheâ€™s uncommitted from the outset."