There was a time when Scarlett Johansson did not do action films. I suppose assuming the role of Black Widow for Marvel really did something for her career. One of the first films I remember her in is The Perfect Score (2004), another where she co-starred with Chris Evans, where a group of high school teens hatch a plot to cheat their way to flawless marks on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). There is also perhaps her more famous early role as the potential love interest of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (2003). They were artsy, and it seemed like she smoked a lot in her movies. At any rate, a personal favorite of mine from this early phase in her filmography is The Nanny Diaries (2007).
I have been in Annie Braddock’s (Scarlett Johansson) shoes before a time or two, the main character in The Nanny Diaries. She has this dream of becoming an anthropologist, like her hero Margaret Mead, as the film cleverly introduces that and the subject matter by her imagining a tour of New York’s Museum of Natural History. Instead, when she graduates from college, she feels the pressures of her mother and her degree to be a successful mover and shaker in the world of finances. When she freezes during an interview for an internship at Goldman Sachs, she heads to Central Park to clear her head and stumbles upon Grayer (Nicholas Art). He is the young son of Mrs. X (Laura Linney), and if you are wondering why the letter for the surname, it is because the film is presented as an anthropological field study of the affluent culture she is about to enter and names have been changed as part of her application to grad school. She is not to become rich herself, but Mrs. X is in need of a nanny, and when they meet she mis-hears Annie’s name and assumes that is her profession. Annie has no experience with childcare, but she does have a college education and a desperate desire to move to the city from her modest New Jersey suburb. Her mother, Judy (Donna Murphy), assumes that she is getting along in her business career when she takes the job and moves in with the X family. Annie quickly finds out that her new job is not all she hoped it would be. At first, Grayer behaves like a brat. Mrs. X, who Annie thought would see her more as daytime caregiver with time to herself in the evening, soon foists all the duties of raising Grayer unto Annie and treats Annie as a mere servant. And there is Mr. X (Paul Giamatti). He is largely absent and/or away on business, is carrying on affairs while Mrs. X turns a blind eye, and soon turns his leers towards Annie. Making matters worse (though not from his perspective) is the relationship that develops between Annie and a guy who lives in the same building as the X’s, Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans, yet again). What is easing things somewhat for Annie is the genuine affection that blossoms eventually between her and Grayer. Thus when Mrs. X summarily dismisses Annie, blaming it on her “flirtations” with Harvard Hottie, her former employer sends her off with a paltry sum well below what she should have received and concocts a story of Annie stealing and drinking on the job. The drinking did occur, but only after she got back to X home to retrieve her stuff and, bottle in hand, scolds the entire entitled attitude of the X’s and their ilk in a scathing diatribe recorded on the nanny-cam. After also making amends with her mother, Annie decides to pursue her passion for Anthropology and a graduate degree at New York University in the subject. The film ends with Harvard Hottie, her now boyfriend, bringing her a note from Mrs. X apologizing for her former employer’s bad behavior and the positive effect the video had on her.
Why do I like The Nanny Diaries? Good question. It is not because of Scarlett Johansson, though I think she is a fine actress. At any rate, I typically go for stories over performances. It could be that her life in the city, without the nanny part of course, reminds me of the days when I lived in Chicago and the town was my oyster. But really it is her pursuit of her dream of becoming an anthropologist and the twists and turns it took. While growing up, after I realized in the sixth grade that I probably was not going to pitch for the Chicago Cubs, I wanted to get my Ph.D. in History. I thought about it night and day. Thus when things did not work out as I intended upon completing my Bachelor’s, I was forced to come up with some different plans. One of them, for a brief time, actually did involve childcare. I worked for a few months in an after school program run by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA, try making that second letter in a dance). So I can relate to the story better than I thought, I guess.
Annie’s behavior in The Nanny Diaries is somewhat puzzling, though. Let us take score, for a moment. She lies to her mother, takes advantage of her best friend, Lynette (Alicia Keys), and kind of steals the affections of another person’s child. Okay, so that last one is not entirely her fault, but every good list needs at least three items. Anyway, what I would add here is that her character arc is what makes the movie work. The decisions she makes are largely the result of her thinking her future was going to go in one direction, and then being embarrassed when it does not go as planned. Her embarrassment is also why she hides her job as a nanny from her mother. While I could talk more about relying on God’s plan and all, I think her chagrin could use a little more analysis. The scripture readings from today, particularly Ezekiel 28:1-10, talk of the dangers of haughtiness. The king of Tyre believes in his abilities so much he thinks himself a god, which brings ruin upon him and his kingdom for not giving his proper due to God. I bring that up because while that is not necessarily Annie’s problem, it is often the most proud who are also the most self-conscious, and she is making herself a prisoner to the expectations of others. When she feels she cannot meet them, she goes to some pretty extraordinary lengths to keep their ire in check. What she should have been doing all along, of course, is to pursue that to which she felt called.
I have watched The Nanny Diaries with others before and it took me a while to realize why they thought it was such a sad movie at times. What poor Grayer has to go through is tough, and there are some other painful lessons along the way. However, this does not mean that it is a depressing film overall. It does have a hopeful message in the end. It is also fun to see Scarlett Johansson in a more comedic role.