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:: The Nanny Diaries

Fresh out of college, Annie (Scarlett Johansson) is on the lookout for a job in New York. She stumbles upon Grayer, a young boy with a high-maintenance mother, Mrs. X (Laura Linney). Mrs X is in desperate need of a nanny. When Linney literally bumps into Johansson - she mishears her name “Annie” as “nanny” - she hires her on the spot. Annie thereby joins the exclusive nanny club of Manhattan, opening her eyes to the way business is conducted in these rich and powerful circles, while fighting to protect her sense of self in the process.

Annie rationalises - to delay a painful decision on her own future - by taking a job for which she is unqualified and unprepared? Over time, it is clear that nothing could ever really prepare her for a thankless job whose requirements are determined by the random impulses of her frivolous employers, though other, typically immigrant, members of the nanny community tried to warn her. She becomes trapped between dysfunctional parents and a child who ends up caring too much for her, which causes the mother to resent her even more. Emotional relief, of a sort, comes in the form of a handsome and flirtatious boy next door.

It's cool to watch the two filmmakers exercise a great deal of control over the film. “The Nanny Diaries” is given artful top spin by writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who have created a sweet and heart-warming film whose recycled themes and average ideas feel freshly told. They also wrote and directed “American Splendour,” a hybrid of fact and fiction based on the life of misanthropic comic-book writer Harvey Pekar, and they earned an Oscar nomination for their screenplay.

One can sense the characters are going somewhere, instead of stumbling over mishaps and melodrama. While not a stylised feature, there remains a conscious effort on the part of the directors to help lift Annie’s journey and lend it a special pace through complex shot constructions and appropriate transitions. For the most part the film is a sprightly piece of New York playground fantasy.

Scarlett Johansson remains one of the best of her generation of actresses, essaying an intuitive, wise, powerful, and yet still feminine, brand of heroine that mixes elegant old-Hollywood looks with refreshingly modern sensibilities. She is good enough to keep us involved in Annie's journey, adding enough off-handed humour and chemistry to keep the film afloat, especially her prickly interaction with the always-excellent Linney. Art is a superb child actor with a surprisingly complex role. Paul Giamatti has little to do besides look shifty, while Evans only smiles and tries to look adorable.

The morals of the story come down to this: Parents should never treat their children as accessories; the path of least resistance can be a minefield; money can't buy happiness.

“The Nanny Diaries” ultimately feels emotionally true to itself - that rare and enjoyable slice-of-life that doesn't often get released from major studios. This alone is something worthwhile.