The Nanny Diaries (2007)

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This book is probably the most grimly depressing and dispiriting I have ever read. I literally wanted to barf up civilisation afterwards. It’s a fictionalised account of the experiences of two college grads’ nannying for the well-heeled in NYC. It’s far from Mary Poppins. Yet husband and wife team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini took the Mean Girls framework of an anthropologist’s perspective and have protagonist college grad Anne/Nanny (Scarlett Johansson) use this horrible work experience – which she literally falls into in Central Park – as field work for a graduate programme in anthropology (her minor.) She majored in business so her hard-working nurse mom expects her to be CFO some day not the indentured slave of an Upper East Side non-working lady who lunches, Mrs X (Laura Linney, in a very good performance), just not on normal food. For the first while, you want to abort the awful child Grayer (Nicholas Art) but his behaviour improves and anyhow it’s too late, he’s practically 6. Annie falls for Hayden the Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans) who lives on the same floor of the Fifth Ave apartment building while Mr and Mrs X’s marriage falls apart. Annie finds out from the other nannies (they’re an army) that she’s the Type C – 24/7, no time to herself. Paul Giamatti is the philandering husband who gropes hot nanny in the end, bringing to a close everyone’s superficial relationships while Annie gets stiffed (monetarily) by Mrs X. The fantasy construction  of the Museum of Natural History-style dioramas lifts the social commentary, as does the red umbrella which gives Annie flight and amplifies the Poppins references. It’s good to see the Met in such sparkling style after a recent clean-up. This film serves horrible material awfully well and it plays much better than it reads with the Parents’ Society meetings being particularly illuminating about people who breed but don’t actually mother. Strange – but somehow understandable! Johansson is very good and has a nice slapstick physical style and her friendship with Alicia Keys (wearing makeup) is quite believable. A tart treatment of an iffy source.

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Mary Poppins (1964)

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You will know from Saving Mr Banks that author PL Travers had major problems with letting go of this, the first of her Poppins series. And she made life hell for Walt Disney and his super-talented team of songwriters, cartoonists, choreographers and writers. And out of that years-long war came a film fashioned from such magical properties as to defy description. It has killer dialogue (“Never mistake efficiency for a liver complaint”), wonderful performances from children and adults alike (it was Andrews’ debut), a terrific blend of pathos and wonderment courtesy of the combination of live action with animation…  And then there are the songs, which I knew long before I ever saw the film. Every home had a copy of this album at one time. They are all brilliantly crafted affairs by Disney’s in-house writers the Sherman brothers. But if you don’t have a lump in your throat for Let’s Go Fly a Kite you might well be a robot. Practically perfect in every way.