The Nanny Diaries follows in the footsteps of last summer's fellow bestseller adaptation The Devil Wears Prada, surrendering a level-headed but somewhat aimless recent college graduate to the grips of an exceedingly demanding (female) employer. Scarlett Johansson plays Annie Braddock, a New Jersey native with vague dreams of an upper-class future in Manhattan. Annie is recruited out of Central Park by Laura Linney's über-Upper East Side mom, simply referred to, for the purposes of Annie's pseudo-anthropological study, as "Mrs. X". Feeling vaguely that fate has chosen her path, Annie allows herself to be swept up into the insanely rich but utterly soulless world of the Xs.
The film's most compelling material is in the high-strung depravity of Mr. and Mrs. X. Mr. X, a deliciously monstrous CEO stereotype (embodied by the always-outstanding Paul Giamatti) simply oozes contempt for his wife, the unwashed masses, lifeforms in general, etc. Giamatti's performance fulfills its highest expectations: it actually makes the person watching it feel sort of dirty. Linney must convey more subtle inner conflict, and it is her performance, much like Meryl Streep's in Prada, that elevates Diaries into the realm of memorable cinema.
The rest of the film unfolds predictably, though pleasantly enough. Johansson improbably aces that whole "girl next door" thing, and she positively radiates young maternal warmth (especially when contrasted with all those severe, skinny power-wives). Annie offers the Xs' child liberation in the form of high fructose corn syrup, and thus they embark upon a great friendship. And inevitably, Annie is pursued by her upstairs neighbor, "Harvard Hottie," who "chooses" her with an entitled zeal similar to that of Mrs. X; but because he looks like an Abercrombie model, this time Annie heartily enjoys her appropriation.