I've been told by a couple of people who've read The Nanny Diaries and seen the film that the latter is a pale, scrubbed imitation of the book -- to which I reply, 'when was that ever not the case?' I've never read The Nanny Diaries, but I enjoyed the film for what it was -- a jelly-lensed portrait of the awful egomania that exists in that biosphere known as the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Be warned -- this film rarely takes a step that's not telegraphed 20 minutes in advance, but that doesn't mean that the presentation isn't solid, the direction focused and precise, and the acting serviceable in the case of Scarlett Johansson and more so in the case of her two, older co-stars -- Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti, who reunites with his American Splendor team here. Linney and Giamatti play Mr. and Mrs. X -- the cheeky, pointless anonymity was granted to them in the book -- a couple of Manhattan blue-bloods who hire Johansson's naive student character as a live-in nanny for their young son, ridiculously named 'Grayer.'
Johansson meets Mrs. X in Central Park, when a slip of the tongue causes her to be swamped by dog-walking UES housewives who think they've happened upon the Rolls Royce of nanny applicants, as opposed to someone who 'barely speaks English,' as one mother complains in the film. She's soon moved into the house and is essentially performing the role of surrogate mother for the precocious Grayer while his mother attends to more pressing issues, like her husband's possible infidelity and finding the right Burberry jacket to put on. Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini handle this opening act of the film with ease, quickly getting us into the fun stuff without going too far in making Johansson's character a poor Cinderella or another far-out character archetype. Instead, she's just a typical college-aged kid who has absolutely no idea where she's going in the world and thinks she can put off the big decisions for a few more months with some easy nanny work. She doesn't realize she's essentially sold herself into indentured servitude.