Inexplicably, the makers of The Nanny Diaries, in adapting this phenomenally popular novel for the screen, have chosen to change virtually everything about it, from minor details, to significant aspects of the characters, to the story arc itself.
The Nanny of the novel-a middle-class girl whose childcare gigs help pay her bills-is transformed on celluloid into Annie (Scarlett Johansson), a young woman from a working-class background who has no idea what she wants to do with her life after college. Her employers, the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. X (Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney), make the task all the more difficult by treating her like a nobody, even though she’s doing all the heavy lifting-literally and figuratively-of raising their son, Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art). Unable to assert herself with her employers-even as they repeatedly impose on her-Annie resists her friends’ advice to quit, unwilling to abandon Grayer as his parents’ marriage disintegrates.
Rather than trusting in the intrinsic entertainment value of the source material, the filmmakers have constructed a faux populist fable, in which Annie-whose single mom worked overtime to put her through college-teaches the privileged, imperious Mrs. X how to love and appreciate her son. In this worldview, wealthy equals bad, so the Mrs. X of the novel morphs from a state-school girl made good into a Smith grad-and the filmmakers feel compelled to render Annie’s love interest a virtual orphan in order to make him sympathetic.
In addition to replacing actual characters with cultural stereotypes, the filmmakers fail to convincingly portray the development of Annie’s relationship with Grayer, which is supposed to be what keeps her working in this miserable situation. Cultural voyeurs who want confirmation that rich families are as dysfunctional as you think they are may enjoy The Nanny Diaries-but for a charming fairy tale about a nanny, stick to Mary Poppins.