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"The Nanny Diaries"
Annie (Scarlett Johnasson) is nanny to Grayer (Nicholas Art) in "The Nanny Diaries."
By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/21/2007 2:33:45 PM ET 2007-08-21T18:33:45
REVIEW

Recent college graduate Annie (Scarlett Johansson) approaches childcare in Manhattan with the anthropological zeal of Margaret Mead in Samoa in “The Nanny Diaries,” a new adaptation of the chick-lit best-seller. From her “field notes” narration to fantasies of dioramas in the Museum of Natural History devoted to “The Upper West Side Mom,” it’s the only way this working-class Jersey girl can begin to understand a world where a woman can say, with a straight face, “Even though I don’t have a job, I just don’t have enough time to myself.”

That woman is Mrs. X (Laura Linney), and she’s a real piece of work. Married to a wealthy Wall Street type (Paul Giamatti), Mrs. X devotes herself to charity and “me time,” leaving almost all interaction with her pre-school son Grayer (Nicholas Art) to Annie. While the kid has a history of being hostile with nannies over this sort of treatment — Mrs. X forbids naps because “I prefer him tired when I get home” — Annie wins him over with a combination of TLC and the forbidden pleasures of peanut butter and jelly straight from the jar.

But, in best “Devil Wears Prada” fashion, Annie gets swept up into a social atmosphere not her own, working for a woman who is totally exploiting her. Will she lose the friendship of her clear-headed pal Lynette (Alicia Keys)? Does the man she calls “Harvard Hottie” (Chris Evans) really want a relationship or is he just slumming? And what will her mother (Broadway legend Donna Murphy) say when she discovers that, after she’s slaved for years as a nurse to put her daughter through college, Annie is throwing away her business education to clean up after some rich lady’s kid?

It’s a pity that the answers to these and other questions aren’t more interesting, frankly, because directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini made their feature directing debut with “American Splendor,” one of the best movies made in this country in the last five years. And while “Nanny Diaries” doesn’t represent a horrible sophomore slump, it’s certainly a letdown by comparison. The whole anthropology shtick is cute but wears thin, particularly since “Mean Girls” did almost the same thing. (In the latter film, narrator Lindsay Lohan describes high school like a zoologist studying animals in the wild.)

Linney steals the show as a brittle social X-ray — a quick moment where she guiltily allows herself to eat one canapé at a cocktail party tells you everything you need to know about this woman’s life — but the movie can’t resist having her learn something at the end, and it just feels like a safe, boring Hollywood cheat. At least Giamatti, who deserved an Oscar for his work in “Splendor” and didn’t even get nominated, both fully inhabits his type-A rotter and is spared the indignity of having to reform.

“The Nanny Diaries” does at least remain light on its feet, and cinematographer Terry Stacey joins the ranks of those filmmakers with a gift for making New York City look absolutely magical. Here’s hoping that the very talented Springer and Pulcini get a crack at a script that’s worthy of their talents for their third time at bat.

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Photos: Scarlett Johansson

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  1. Scarlett Johansson has played a variety of roles, from action heroes to indie-film protagonists. She's seen here in a scene from "Under the Skin," which was released in April 2014, at the same time as her more mainstream offering, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Red-carpet smiles

    Johansson and Chris Evans attend the UK Film Premiere of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" at Westfield London on March 20, 2014 in London, England. (Anthony Harvey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. All dolled up

    Johansson, holding a doll of her Black Widow character, attends "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" premiere at Taikoo Li Sanlitun on March 24, 2014 in Beijing. (Chinafotopress / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'Her' voice

    Johansson attends the premiere of "Her" in Rome on Nov. 10, 2013. She provided the voice of Samantha, the computer operating system who falls in love with Joaquin Phoenix, in the film. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Black Widow returns

    Johansson plays Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, in the "Avengers" series of films, and reprises that role in 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," which stars Chris Evans as Captain America. () Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Lovebirds

    Johansson and finance Romain Dauriac arrive at the 39th French Cesar Awards Ceremony, in Paris, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (Lionel Cironneau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Controversy bubbles up

    Johansson appeared in a commercial for SodaStream which was shown during Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, 2014. Because the company is headquartered in the West Bank, controversy soon bubbled up. The ensuing debate led to Johansson resigning as global ambassador for aid and development agency Oxfam, which opposes all trade with Israeli settlements. (Uncredited / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'Don Jon' stars

    Johansson, second from left, is joined by actor Tony Danza, left, actress Julianne Moore, right, and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the "Don Jon" film premiere in New York on Sept. 12, 2013. (Charles Sykes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. True love

    Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are shown in a scene from "Don Jon." (Relativity Media) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Skin' flick

    Johansson poses on the red carpet at the gala for the new movie "Under The Skin" during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Sept. 9, 2013. (Nathan Denette / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. New man

    Johansson and her fiance Romain Dauriac attend the "Under the Skin" premiere during the 70th Venice International Film Festival at Palazzo del Cinema in Venice, Italy, on Sept. 3, 2013. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Back in Venice

    Johansson arrives for the premiere of "Under the Skin" at the 70th annual Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 3, 2013. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Hero worship

    Johansson and actor Chris Evans attend Marvel Studios' "Thor: The Dark World," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and "Guardians of The Galaxy" during Comic-Con International at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel on July 20, 2013. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Broadway ScarJo

    Johansson, along with actors Benjamin Walker and Ciaran Hinds, take part in the curtain call for the "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" opening night at Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York on Jan. 17, 2013. (Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. An 'A' for effort

    Johansson attends the premiere of her latest film "Hitchcock" in New York on Nov. 18, 2012. (Evan Agostini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Blonde bombshell

    Johansson plays "Psycho" star Janet Leigh in 2012's "Hitchcock," an actress who bewitches director Alfred Hitchcock with her talents ... and candy corn. (Suzanne Tenner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Getting political

    Johansson speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 6, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Golden glow

    Johansson appeared in a mermaid tail dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Benefit on May 7, 2012. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A star at 27

    Johansson is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, Calif., on Wed., May 2, 2012 (Jon Kopaloff / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Action-flick chick

    Johansson stars as Black Widow in the May 2012 release "The Avengers." Reprising her vixen-like role, the actress learned "Wushu style" combat and can be seen flipping, kicking, and sharpshooting her lithe frame out of every dilemma in which she finds herself in the superhero flick. (Walt Disney Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Animal house

    Johansson stars with Matt Damon in Cameron Crowe's December 2011 film, "We Bought a Zoo," about a family that renovates and re-opens a struggling zoo. (Twentieth Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Oxfam ambassador

    In her role as global ambassador for Oxfam, Johansson visits Somali refugees on Sept. 21, 2011 in Dadaab Camp, north-eastern Kenya. (Andy Hall / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Laced up and ready

    Johansson arrives at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 27, 2011. (John Shearer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. All buttoned up

    Johansson jokes with Jean Paul Gaultier after the French designer received the Honorary Button award for his career at the El Boton Mango Fashion Awards ceremony in Barcelona, Spain, on Oct. 20, 2010. (Marta Perez / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Fashion sense

    Johansson poses prior to the start of the Dolce & Gabbana women's Spring-Summer 2012 fashion collection, in Milan, Italy, on Sept. 25, 2011. (Antonio Calanni / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Honored on Broadway

    Johansson, right, accepts the award from actress Katie Holmes for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her work in "A View From the Bridge" at the 64th annual Tony Awards ceremony in New York on June 13, 2010. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Blind sided?

    Johansson, left, and Sandra Bullock get close onstage at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif., on June 6, 2010. (Christopher Polk / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Premiere night

    Johansson arrives at the world premiere of "Iron Man 2" held at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, Calif,. on April 26, 2010. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Playing the villain

    Johansson plays undercover agent Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, in 2010's "Iron Man 2." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Star of stage, too

    Johansson and Liev Schreiber absorb the applause of the audience during their curtain call on opening night of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge" at the Cort Theater in New York on Jan. 24, 2010. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. In fashionable company

    Johansson poses with Italian designers Domenico Dolce, right, and Stefano Gabbana upon arrival for the opening of the photo exhibition "Extreme Beauty in Vogue" on March 2, 2009 at the Palazzo della Ragione in Milan. (Giuseppe Cacace / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. In full flower

    Johansson arrives at the premiere of "He's Just Not That Into You" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 2, 2009. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Cute couple

    Johansson plays Anna, a woman who just wants to be friends with Conor (Kevin Connelly, left), who wants more, in "He's Just Not That Into You." (Darren Michaels / Warner Bros. via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Simply lovely

    Johansson poses for the media at the new MANGO Winter 2009/10 campaign on October 15, 2009, in Munich, Germany. (Miguel Villagran / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. In good company

    Johansson and Nobel Winner Martti Ahtisaari are seen on stage at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2008 at the Oslo Spektrum on Dec. 11, 2008 in Oslo, Norway. Michael Caine and Johansson hosted gala event. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Spirited performance

    Johansson plays Silken Floss, a punk secretary and frigid vixen in the movie "The Spirit." Frank Miller brings Will Eisner's comic book to live in this thriller, which also stars Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson and Eva Mendes. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Two years was enough

    Johansson and actor Ryan Reynolds tied the knot in a surprise wedding in Vancouver, Canada, on Sept. 27, 2008. But the couple split just two years later and finalized their divorce in July 2011. (Rainer Jensen / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Back with Woody

    Johansson, right, and Penelope Cruz, stars in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," arrive for the premiere of the film in Los Angeles on Aug. 4, 2008. The film, directed by Woody Allen, is about girlfriends on a summer holiday in Spain who become enamored with the same painter, played by Javier Bardem. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Red carpet 'Girl'

    Johansson poses for photographers as she arrives for the screening of her movie "The Other Boleyn Girl" at the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin, Germany, on Feb. 15, 2008. Johansson starred opposite Natalie Portman in the film about two sisters competing for the affections of King Henry VIII. (Markus Schreiber / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Scarlett hearts

    Scarlett Johansson, second from right, makes an in-store appearance along with three models to debut her new clothing line and to donate 2,000 pairs of shoes to charity, on March 8, 2007. Sportswear giant Reebok signed the actress up to help create their Scarlett 'Hearts' Rbk range - a new "high-end signature line of retro-chic footwear and clothing". (Dan Steinberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Quite a kiss

    Johansson, Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals 2007 woman of the year, is also the recipient of kisses from Hasty Pudding president Josh Brener, right, and vice-president of casting Justin Rodriguez, both Harvard University seniors, during a parade into Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 15, 2007. (Stephan Savoia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Getting the 'Scoop'

    In the contemporary comedy "Scoop," Johansson portrays a student journalist for a college newspaper who is visiting friends in London when she happens upon the scoop of a lifetime. Hugh Jackman and Woody Allen costar. (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Femme fatale

    Johansson stars as the mysterious Kay Lake in "The Black Dahlia." Two cops, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and his partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), investigate the death of Elizabeth Short, a young woman found brutally murdered. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Magic time

    nsson arrives at the London premiere of "The Prestige." She plays a magician's assistant who comes between two rivals (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale). (Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. All's Fair

    It was Johansson in the foreground -- with nothing to hide, including her bare behind -- on Vanity Fair's 2006 Hollywood issue. She was paired with Keira Knightley and fashionista Tom Ford. (Annie Leibovitz / Vanity Fair via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Lady in red

    Johansson arrives at the Golden Globes in January 2006, a nominee for best supporting actress in a drama. The award went to Michelle Williams, but Johansson made some news when E! correspondent Isaac Mizrahi squeezed her breasts on the air. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. On the runway

    Johansson models a look from Tara Subkoff's Imitation of Christ spring 2006 collection during Sept. 2005's Fashion Week in New York. Designer Subkoff is no stranger to the big screen herself, having acted in such films as "The Last Days of Disco." (Diane Bondareff / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. High intensity

    L'Oreal Paris announces the signing of an exclusive worldwide contract with the quadruple Golden Globe(R) nominated and BAFTA-winning actress, Scarlett Johansson, as a spokesperson for the company and its brands. Johansson will first represent L'Oreal Paris' HIP High Intensity Pigments(TM), a new cosmetics collection for women who love color. The new commercial featuring Johansson will debut during the 63rd Annual Golden Globe(R) Telecast on Monday, January 16, 2005. (L'Oreal Paris) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Allen's town

    Johansson and Woody Allen arrive for the screening of "Match Point" in Cannes. The film was selected for an out-of-competition screening during the 2005 festival. (Sipa Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Do you have a 'Match'?

    Johansson was uniformly praised for her work in Woody Allen's "Match Point," in which she plays an American actress who has an affair with her fiance's friend, played by Jonathan Rhys-Myers. Johansson, in turn, had nothing but praise for director Allen. (Dreamworks) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. No looking back

    Johansson arrives for the European premiere of "The Island" in Aug. 2005. After her dabbling with the action genre, she would soon turn toward more cerebral fare. (Max Nash / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Speaking of 'Bay'-watch

    After all the indie films and offbeat roles, Johansson brightened up Michael Bay's futuristic 2005 boom-fest "The Island." She plays a clone who comes to understand that she is a prisoner and her entire life a fabrication. The expected "Clone Scarlett? Great idea!" jokes soon followed. (Doug Hyun / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. No Hassel at all

    Johansson joins David Hasselhoff for the 2004 premiere of "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie." Johansson voiced Mindy, the daughter of King Neptune, while the "Baywatch" star played himself. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Hats off

    Next, Johansson took on the role of Meg Windermere in 2004's "A Good Woman," based on an Oscar Wilde play. Don't let that demure look fool you, (Sergio Strizzi / LionsGate via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Sorrowful 'Song'

    After two high-profile roles, Johansson's turn in 2004's New Orleans-set "A Love Song for Bobby Long" was relatively quiet. Johansson received a Golden Globe nomination as best actress in a drama for her role as a young woman coming home after her mother's death. (ScreenGems via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. 'Pearl' girl

    A face Vermeer could love: Johansson again dazzled viewers with her portrayal of Griet, the presumably fictional inspiration for the famed Flemish painter's masterwork. Following directly on "Lost in Translation," this role again convinced critics of Johansson's potential as a serious actress. (LionsGate) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. My dinner with Scarlett

    Johansson was already well-established by the time she appeared opposite Bill Murray in 2003's "Lost in Translation." But the role cemented her place as a star with a bright future. (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. 'Freak'-ing out

    From Redford as a co-star to ... David Arquette. Johansson attends the 2002 world premiere of spooky spider flick "Eight Legged Freaks" at Grauman's Chinese Theater. By this point, though, the fresh-faced starlet had already found another memorable role as would-be outcast Rebecca in "Ghost World." (Robert Mora / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Getting a leg up

    In an emotional scene from the movie "The Horse Whisperer," Johansson is helped into the saddle by Robert Redford after being traumatized in a horseback riding accident. At just 13, Johansson got impressive screen time with major Hollywood names like Redford, a sign of her future potential. (Elliott Marks / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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