Deborah Ross

Shut your mouth, dear

Cinema: The Nanny Diaries

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Now, listen, and listen good, or I’ll come round and box your ears. Should anyone happen to say to you, ‘Shall we go see The Nanny Diaries tonight?’, you must answer, ‘No.’ There should be no need to embellish this. Just say ‘no’. It’s very simple. Practise it now. No, no, no, no, no. Should you not listen, and should you allow an ‘OK’ to pop out, you will not only prove yourself the lily-livered, pathetic, no-good shmuck I have always suspected you to be, but I will also have to box your ears — I know where you live — and I do not want to box your ears. Don’t you think I’ve got enough to do?

On the whole, I don’t mind a turkey, as there is usually some fun to be had with it, especially if it’s a nice, big, fat, proud, preening one, but this is such a dim and dismal runt of a turkey it would surely have been much, much kinder to have wrung its scaggy neck at birth. Well, kinder to us, at least. Speaking for myself, this is not only 145 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back, but it’s also 145 minutes I could have wasted more productively on the internet and making prank calls. I’m behind with both as it is.

Anyway, if you care, which is in itself inadvisable, I guess I should tell you it’s based, apparently, on the bestselling book by two real New York nannies who wrote, in novel form, about their experiences working for the super-rich families of the Upper East Side. Here, the story is told in the one voice of Annie (known by her employers as ‘Nanny’) as played by Scarlett Johansson, who looked like an interesting actress for nearly ten minutes (with Lost In Translation) but now isn’t. She just gawps endlessly and gormlessly in this. Shut your mouth, dear. You’re a pretty girl and it’s not doing anything for you.

Anyway, Annie is a 21-year-old anthropology graduate whose mother wants her to go into finance but after bungling a job interview she rescues a little boy in Central Park whose mother, Mrs X (Laura Linney, who does the best she can, poor thing), asks her to become his live-in nanny, as you do when you meet strangers in the park. The little boy is called Grayer, which is no kind of name to start with, because if Grayer why not Oranger or Purpler and have you met my little girl, Redder Pinkella Blueicious?

You know, while there may well be satire or a comedy to be had from rich mommies and their nannies and unloved kids, this isn’t it. It goes nowhere, doesn’t develop, has no bite and is just one clichéd caricature after another: Mrs X, selfish and neurotic; Mr X, selfish, boorish and unfaithful; Grayer, spoiled yet neglected. Grayer is, I suppose, meant to win our hearts but doesn’t because he has a face like a fist and not a hint of charm. When he says, ‘I love you Nanny,’ any reasonable nanny would punch him in that face, but not Annie, because she is a total doormat and gawping bore. She says, ‘I love you too, Grayer,’ as if you could, a boy like that! You can’t buy into any of these characters for a minute. It’s an insult, even, to think that anyone thought we might. Now, shall I get started on Annie’s love interest, the chap who lives in the apartment upstairs, who is more non-dimensional than one-dimensional and carries on like a Richard Gere Lite even though Richard Gere Heavy is no great shakes? Nah. Can’t be bothered.

However, at least the implausibilities, caricatures and clichés are backed up by a fittingly risible script. Get this: Annie actually says at one point, as if she just thought of it, ‘Money can’t buy you happiness,’ which, anyway, is patently untrue. Yesterday I went to Primark and bought two tops and they made me very happy indeed. The truth is, you don’t even need a lot of money to buy happiness.

What is this film about? Nothing. It’s senseless and horrid, patronising to all women everywhere, and extremely tiresome. Ignore all this if you so fancy, but I will box your ears. Plus, I don’t just know where you live, I know where you keep your cash, too.