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_ The Nanny Diaries _ Title: The Nanny Diaries

I love being surprised at the movies. That feeling of going into a film expecting one thing and getting something totally different. Even if it is bad, if it is at least surprising that counts for something. The previews and poster for The Nanny Diaries had me flashing back to Brittany Murphy chasing around an anal Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls. I thought, did they really do another one of these? And no, thank goodness, they didn’t. What writer/director team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini did do was create a comedy drama that takes a few hard, well deserved jabs at upper class parenting. Based on the best selling book by the same name, you have to wonder how true this tale sadly is for many families. But, hey, isn’t it a little gratifying to poke fun at the high and mighty? Too bad most will never even see this.

Annie/Nanny (Scarlett Johansson) is a Jersey girl fresh out of college with no clue who she really is. All she has is a degree and a desire to please those around her. When she takes a job as a nanny for the X family she has the rare opportunity to view a species of land dwellers few see from inside the tribe itself. The Upper East Side Manhattan family unit. What she documents is dysfunction, selfishness and a group starving for real affection. Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) escapes in his work and has no time for his son or Mrs. X (Laura Linney). In turn Mrs. X is too consumed with social standings and reputation to bother with actually raising her son. So everything involving the X offspring is left to the nanny to handle.

I liked how the story is told from a study point of view. Annie has a minor in anthropology and she narrates the story as if explaining the habits and rituals of a strange civilization while trying to find her place within this society at the same time. The principle characters have no names but are known by labels. This makes for a unique telling of an otherwise common plot. Also, it allowed itself to get serious when need be and take a hard look at a devastating part of our culture. It balances this with some comedic elements and a slight romantic interest of Annie’s, labeled appropriately as Harvard Hottie. Johansson continues to make her mark as a comfortable, believable actress. Linney performs well and you hate her character as much as you feel sorry for her.

The Nanny Diaries is Rated PG-13 for language. The expletives are mild but laced throughout. The F word is used once but in a context that is fitting and I am not sure any other word would have driven home the point so effectively. This is a good movie for mother daughter outings and your 14 and up teen will find it cute and enjoyable. Younger viewers will get lost in the underlying drama and find the slapstick comedy lost in lots of dialogue. It is 105 minutes long but feels longer. It bogs down near the end and you start hoping for a quick, tightly packaged finish. Still I give it a solid 3 out of 5 playdates. Very seldom do you get a look into the dysfunction of the elite from this perspective. Just know before you go.

Matt Mungle (matt@mungleshow.com)(08/21/07)

“Matt is a member of the North Texas Film Critics Association (NTFCA) and co-hosts a weekly radio feature, The Mungles on Movies, with his wife Cindy. For additional reviews, interview clips and great DVD giveaways, visit the website www.mungleshow.com”

Review copyright 2007 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.

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