Movies

UPDATED 09/03/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/03/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT

The Nanny Diaries
Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney | PG-13 |

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COMEDY

Last year The Devil Wears Prada managed to turn a trashtastic beach read into a witty, resonant film. No such luck with fellow chick-lit transplant The Nanny Diaries, whose disappointing leap to the screen is nothing to write home about. An insecure college graduate (Johansson) finds work in New York City caring for an Upper East Side brat while enduring his narcissistic mom (Linney), who doesn't have a job but is far too busy juggling massage appointments to do any parenting herself.

It's a fertile source for material both wildly comic and heartbreakingly tragic. But writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) never commit to either path, dwelling instead on dreary visual tricks—like Johansson's recurring fantasy of flying via umbrella like Mary Poppins—that barely entertained the first time. Johansson is kept curiously straitjacketed, while Linney's self-absorption is so perfect ("You never mentioned you had a mother, Nanny!"), it renders a late about-face all the more implausible. Nanny cries out for more madcap moments, like its farcical playdate with a loopy, Anna Nicole Smith-clone mom. One character even ignores the goings-on to read a copy of the Nanny Diaries novel; sound advice for anyone yearning to revisit this tale.

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