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The Nanny Diaries DVD Review

By Prairie Miller

The road to the real world after college graduation can be one of exciting possibilities, or on the other hand, just plain terrifying. In The Nanny Diaries, Scarlett Johansson is precocious but also naive Jersey girl Annie, fresh out of college and with a major in anthropology. And more than eager to apply that academic knowledge to explore the rest of the planet that lies just across, say, the Hudson River.

Little did Annie imagine that her wanderlust would in fact take her no further than the Upper East Side of Manhattan, when she allows her own trepidation about the future to sweep her up passively into an easy destiny as nanny to a dysfunctional wealthy Fifth Ave.

family. Annie's journey through hard knocks life experience among the pampered and cruel elite there, is imaginatively framed as an anthropological study, a mock but insightful diary detailing an encounter with a powerful and savage tribe far from where civilization lies in, well, the Jersey suburbs. Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (Harvey Pekar bio-fantasy pic, American Splendor) lead us along on this rarely-a-dull-moment expedition into the upscale urban wilds, and it's filled with immense zesty humor and irony, while also tinged with solemn reflections about families and what most divides them.

Scarlett is feisty and also vulnerable, sustaining that delicate balance in this coming of age struggle specific to the female experience, as a confused, directionless young woman caught between two opposing generations of female elders. On the one hand, there's Annie's mother (Donna Murphy), a divorced single working mom and nurse with feminist tendencies, whose own difficult survival through the years raising her daughter alone, has blinded her to her daughter's needs and yearnings. And she attempts to push a resistant Annie into the business world so she'll never experience the same financial insecurity. Then there's Annie's dragon lady boss, designated as Mrs. X (Laura Linney). She's a domineering socialite housewife who seems to exist simply to indulge her own every whim, while studiously avoiding any meaningful work or even bonding with her own understandably troubled young son Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art), for whom Annie cares deeply and substitutes as a surrogate mom.

The Nanny Diaries, based on the 2005 novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, is alternately touching and funny, with an ample infusion of wry comic relief courtesy of Paul Giamatti's devilishly workaholic honcho absentee spouse Mr. X, and Alicia Keys as Annie's tough love aspiring shrink best girlfriend. There's also plenty of wise and candid back talk from the army of immigrant nanny lifers, who view Annie skeptically as a temp tourist in the exploitative, luckless biz. Though the weighty conflicts brewing throughout.

The Nanny Diaries are tied up a bit too neatly and hastily in the end, the heady excursion along the way through modern day girl fight class warfare is a witty class act, and extremely charming.

The Weinstein Company/Genius Home Entertainment
PG-13
4 stars

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