THE NANNY DIARIES written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, adapted from the novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, with Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti, Alicia Keys and Chris Evans. An Alliance Atlantis release. 105 minutes. Opens Friday (August 24). Rating: NNN
The devil might still wear prada, but what happens when she's not a tough-as-nails fashion editrix but an Upper East Side dragon lady who lunches, power shops and attends motherhood stress management courses, all while ignoring her cute four-year-old kid?
What you get is The Nanny Diaries, the screen adaptation of Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus's hilarious 2002 tell-all novel inspired by their years of nannying the adorable offspring of UES monster moms.
Nanny Diaries is essentially Laura Linney in the Meryl Streep role of nightmare boss to Scarlett Johansson's version of Anne Hathaway's innocent ingenue. It worked before, and it works here. (It also worked years ago in Working Girl, which, natch, is getting a remake.)
But again, the older, wiser and altogether better-trained actor steals the picture away from the celebutante, resulting in a film that's entertaining if unbalanced.
Johansson pouts her plump lips a lot as Annie, a recent business degree grad (with a minor in anthropology) from New Jersey who clams up in her first serious job interview and slips into the nanny market, where, because she's white and educated, she's in high demand.
Linney, working those iron dimples of hers, secures her services, which turn out to be a 24/7 child watch for her pampered and over-protected son, Grayer (Nicholas Art). Power mom wants Grayer to learn about French cuisine and the Stock Exchange, while all the boy wants to do is spend time with his mother and distant dad (Paul Giamatti).
Director/writers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who took lots of stylistic risks on their Harvey Pekar film American Splendor, aren't as brave here. They traffic in cute. Everything's so calculated: Johansson's embarrassing get-ups, her goo-goo-eyed rapport with Grayer and especially the repeated references to Mary Poppins and mock display cases from the Museum of Natural History.
The writers have also added a friend for Annie - singer Alicia Keys, no doubt to bring in a different demographic - and pumped up the role of Annie's hunky possible boyfriend, nicknamed Harvard Hottie ( Chris Evans , from the Fantastic Four films).
The social satire works well - especially in a climactic birthday party scene where Grayer's petrified of a pair of French mimes. And it still offers the delicious joy of spying on the nouveaux riches.
But the adaptation's biggest change is humanizing Linney's Mrs. X. She's no longer just a two-dimensional social climber, which made for nasty fun on the page. She's a confused and miserable about-to-be-ousted first wife. As a result, Linney steals all her scenes - while wearing Manolos.