Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Nanny Diaries (2007)

Written and Directed by: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

Cast: Scarlett Johansson (1), Laura Linney (2), Chris Evans (3), Alicia Keys (4), and Donna Murphy (5)

My favourite quotes - 
" Just remember, Grove, that money can't buy love." & "Who is Annie Braddock? It wasn’t exactly a trick question yet somehow I couldn’t formulate a response. Of course I knew all the basic facts, the date of birth, hometown, socio-economic makeup but I didn’t know who I was, where I fit in, who I was gonna be. I was suddenly terrified I will never find an answer."

Did you know? - The film is based on a book of the same name and has a sequel called Nanny Returns. Written by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, both of whom are former nannies. The book satirizes upper class Manhattan society as seen through the eyes of their children's caregivers. The writers were students at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualised Study when they wrote the book. Both had worked as nannies for about 30 different wealthy families on the Upper East Side, where the book is set.

Happy birthday Ah Pak! And thank you for helping to bring me up and for taking care of me for 28 years. Ah Pak is what I call my maid/nanny. I've been calling her Ah Pak for as long as I can remember. She's been taking care of me since I was a year and a half. And to me she's family. In fact, I have on a handful of occasions accidentally called her "Mum". Sorry mummy! 

Yesterday was Ah Pak's birthday and late at night after I gave her the present I got her and her birthday cake, I watched The Nanny Dairies again because it seemed apt. I was deciding between The Help or The Nanny Dairies and well, the later seemed more appropriate. I don't really know why I didn't think to watch Mary Poppins since this film pays homage to it in some scenes of the film, but ultimately I settled for The Nanny Diaries. In fact, the show's titular character Annie was 21 when she became a nanny in the film. The same age Ah Pak was when she first came to Singapore and took care of me. 

While my parents were much more involved in my life and upbringing than in Grayer's life, and even though I'm not a rich kid living on Fifth Avenue, I can relate to Grayer on a small level, so I connected with this film easily. The following two sets of dialogue will tell you all you need to know about the obvious theme of the film.

Grayer: When I grow up, I want enough money to build the real castle.
Annie Braddock: Just remember, Grove, that money can't buy love.
Grayer: But mommy pays you money, and I love you!

Money can't buy love. To a child, all they want is to love and be loved by their parents. They want to know that no matter how good or bad they are, their parents will love them unconditionally. No one else can or should replace the parents in a child's life. Nannies or maids taking care and bringing up the children of various societies is becoming an ever-growing trend. It is evident not only in Manhattan, it happens here in Singapore as well. I know and understand that working adults find it hard to juggle their career and family. I think when or if I start a family, I will face that very same problem of being an absent parent. However, the situation depicted in the film is not so much a lack of time but the misplacement of importance. 

Annie Braddock: Okay Mrs. X, now it's time for a few simple childcare rules.
Parents Society Speaker: Oh, alright, the teddy bear has been compromised.
Annie Braddock: Slamming the door in your kid's face is NOT okay. Spending more time on a benefit for kids that you've never met than you do with your own blood is NOT okay. Going to a SPA when your son has a fever of a hundred and four and not answering emergency calls, that officially makes you an unfit mother.
Mrs. X: This is outrageous. Stop the tape.
Parents Society Speaker: Uh, no. This is clearly a disgruntled nanny. We might have something to learn here.
Annie Braddock: Now I know that you're really pretty busy with your hair appointments, and your watsu massages and your attempts to stay young so your husband won't leave you. But here's an idea! Why don't you try eating dinner with your child every once in a blue moon. And a heads up here lady, try smiling once in a while. People hate you. As for you Mr X, who the hell are you? Maybe you’re asking the same about me. I know you notice my ass but you probably don’t recognise my face so here’s a little hint okay, I’m the one who’s been raising your son. Grayer is not an accessory; his mother didn’t order him from a catalogue. Your son, your wife, are people in your home, human beings who are drowning in their desire for you to just, for you to look at them. You know the truth is I don’t wish either of you harm. If for no other reason than you having the profound privilege of being Grayer’s parents. Grayer loves you. He doesn’t care what you’re wearing or what you buy him or what school he gets into, he just wants you there. That’s it. And time’s running out, he won’t love you unconditionally that much longer. So for your own good, don’t miss out on getting to know him. He is truly an amazing, amazing little person.

Growing up on Hollywood movies and western ideas, I always watch films depicting the close parent-child relationships, where the parent reads to the child before bedtime, and the mother-daughter relationship is more reminiscent of best friends rather than between parent and child. But in a traditional Asian family setting, it is vastly different. 

In Asian families, there is an invisible line separating the father and the child, and there are certain boundaries the child and parent does not cross for the fear of diluting the role of the disciplinarian in the family. Asian mothers are more of a grey area. And it really depends on whether the father is the disciplinarian or the mother. And if you ask me which I prefer, despite being brought up in a traditional Asian style of parenting, I prefer to be my child's mother and best friend.

In a film with such a negative look at the parenting style of certain individuals, it is a huge contrast to the relationship between Scarlett Johansson's Annie and her mother Judy Braddock, played by Donna Murphy. They share a close relationship but the role of the disciplinarian is still present. Her mother has a lot of expectations and sometimes comes across as too overbearing. But she still loves her daughter enough to recognise that its her life to lead and whether she fails or succeeds, she will be there for her no matter what. 

The search for self; to find out who you are and who you want to be is a theme that is also prominent in the film.

"Who is Annie Braddock? It wasn’t exactly a trick question yet somehow I couldn’t formulate a response. Of course I knew all the basic facts, the date of birth, hometown, socio-economic makeup but I didn’t know who I was, where I fit in, who I was gonna be. I was suddenly terrified I will never find an answer."

That is a question some of us ask every single day of our lives. And yes, it is terrifying to not know who you are and who do you want to be. Then there's what you want to be or do versus what your limitations are, what you can do or what you're good at doing. Annie was good at finance and business, but it wasn't what she wanted out of her life. Will she be great at anthropology? Maybe? Maybe not? But the point is that her heart is in anthropology not business or finance. And she is willing to take a chance on it and try it at the very least. 

Mary Poppins is one of my favourite films of all time and I love the way The Nanny Diaries pays tribute to the film in little ways. Like using a remixed version of the song Spoonful of Sugar in one of the scenes, as well as the use of the umbrella motif and Annie telling Grayer about the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. In fact, I even love the stylised way the directors opened the film with the museum's wax figures. Although it seems odd to treat the film in such a lighthearted manner considering the serious topic, I found that I really enjoyed those moments in the film.  

In terms of the acting, I think this is my favourite film Scarlett Johansson has starred in. Although she isn't my favourite actress, I don't deny that she is a great actress. Acting alongside her as her love interest is Chris Evans as Havard Hottie. His role is very similar to most other film roles I've seen him so far except for Captain America: The First Avengerso I'd say his performance was just so-so. 

But the real star of the film in regards to acting is perhaps the woman who plays Grayer's mother Laura Linney. Even though she was very often unreasonable in her demands of Annie and a really bad mother to Grayer, I could understand her frustrations and could empathise with her. And when she was confronted with the tape in which Annie lambasted her behaviour towards Grayer and herself, the reaction and subsequent change was heartwarming and very believable. Even child actor Nicholas Art did an excellent job portraying Grayer and in every scene with him, he nailed it, especially the heartbreaking scene when Annie was forced to leave without saying goodbye. In all, I feel that the film was well casted and the two leads Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney played off each other very well. 

(1) Scarlett Johansson has acted in films like The Horse Whisperer (1998), Lost In Translation (2003), Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003), The Perfect Score (2004), In Good Company (2004), The Island (2005), Match Point (2005), Scoop (2006), The Black Dahlia (2006), The Prestige (2006), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008), He's Just Not That Into You (2009), Iron Man 2 (2010), We Bought A Zoo (2011),  and The Avengers (2012).

(2) Laura Linney has acted in films like The Truman Show (1998), Mystic River (2003), Love Actually (2003), and Driving Lessons (2006).

(3) Chris Evans has acted in films like Not Another Teen Movie (2001), The Perfect Score (2004), Cellular (2004), Fantastic Four (2005), Sunshine (2007), Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007), Street Kings (2008), Rush (2009), The Losers (2010), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), What's Your Number (2011), and The Avengers (2012). He also voiced the character of Casey Jones in the animation TMNT (2007) and Stewart Stanton in Battle For Terra (2007).

(4) Alicia Keys is a singer who has also acted in films like Smokin' Aces (2007) and The Secret Life Of Bees (2008).

(5) Donna Murphy has acted in films like Centre Stage (2000), Spider-Man 2 (2004), The Fountain (2006) and voiced the character of Mother Gothel in the Disney animation Tangled (2010). She has also performed the role of Anna Leonowens in The King and I on Broadway from 1996 to 1998.

The Eclectic Reviewer thinks… The Nanny Diaries reminds me that I should not be afraid to keep searching for who I am and who I want to be. And if you've already decided who and what you wanna be, don't let go of that and keep on striving towards that goal. It also makes me realise how lucky I am to have parents who are so much more involved in my life than Grayer does. And of course, it reminds me of my own "nanny" Ah Pak, as well as the love, care and concern she has showered upon me all these years. (3 of 5)

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