As a study of human behaviour in certain social circles 'The Nanny Diaries' works, with its light-hearted and often daydreamy approach making its moral lesson easier to swallow, while still illustrating a point in an amusing manner.
Annie Braddock (Johansson) doesn't know what to do with her life. She longs to become an anthropologist but her mother Judy (Murphy) isn't keen on the idea and insists that Annie would be better off trying to get into a financial institution, instead of daydreaming about other people's lives. But the idea of power suits and cramming onto the subway at rush hour is enough to bring Annie out in a sweat so she abandons her mother's dream and chances upon one of her own very accidentally.
When 'Annie' is misheard as 'Nanny' during a trip to the park, she is immediately in demand among the Upper East Side yummy mummys, who rely on nannies to rear their children. And, after a number of lucrative and strange offers, she decides to take up residence with the mysteriously named Mrs X (Linney) and care for her young son Grayer (Art), while she goes shopping, attends lunches and listens to seminars on how to avoid conflict with your nanny.
From here on in the story barely steps into the original but it still manages to hold a certain charm as Annie, now known simply as Nanny, bonds with the affection-hungry Grayer and casts a disapproving eye over the behaviour of Mrs X, before realising that she just might be misunderstood. The fleeting appearances of Mr X (Giamatti) also give her something to talk about, as the greedy businessman conforms to all the worst stereotypes of rich men with no morals. All the while, Annie is lying to her mother about her new job and using feisty best friend Lynette (Keys) as her cover story when needed.
Then to complicate matters even further there's a handsome boy-next-door, whom she refers to only as Harvard Hottie (Evans) rather than finding out his real name. He's off limits for several reasons: a) her employer Mrs X doesn't approve of personal relationships b) she thinks he's way out of her league because he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth c) Annie presumes him to be a stereotypical posh boy who doesn't know the value of anything or care about people who aren't part of his elite social circle. Will she be forced to swallow a slice of humble pie when she gets to know Harvard Hottie a bit better? (Only in the best of cliché-ridden chick-flicks.)
Johansson strays away from her pretty-girl stereotype here to play, fairly convincingly, a confused young lady, who is slightly scattered in her decision-making, despite her best intentions. But it is Laura Linney who steals the show as the uptight Upper East Side mom, who cares more about what the neighbours think of her than how her own child sees her, with Paul Giamatti complementing in the role of her 'money-talks' husband. The script isn't likely to set the world alight but there is a fair share of funny moments and enough emotion to keep you watching.
As teeny-bopper chick flicks go, you could do worse than absorb the family values being handed out here. What's more 'The Nanny Diaries' steers clear of the preachy for the most part, making its lessons the amusing kind, which are always easier to stomach.