Well, that’s what the movie version of The Nanny Diaries tries to give you. I read the book a summer or 2 ago, and enjoyed it with a kind of voyeuristic pleasure – peeking into the lives of women I will never be, living in a world I will never inhabit. TND is the story of a recent college grad who finds herself working as a nanny for a posh super-elite Fifth ave. family (the “X’s”). Through Nanny’s eyes, we see what goes on behind those penthouse doors. Part of the book’s inherent enjoyment is the confirmation of our secret belief that the parents in these families are arrogant self-absorbed superficial people who connect better (and spend a great deal more time with) their golf buddies and hairstylists than with their progeny.
Overall, the movie version stays faithful to the essence of the book, including many of the more humorous and bizarre situations that nannies who work for people like the X’s find themselves in, such as: normal nanny introducing sheltered child who is on a “high-soy organic diet” to, gasp!, the pleasures of pb&j, having to wear humiliating costumes as you chaperone and schlep your charge (also in humiliating costume) to various business/charity functions, playdates in homes where Mommy is a former Miss something or other and the Nanny’s job is more concerned with watching the mom than the kids, and “Mother/Nanny” conferences that are supposed to encourage communication and harmony between employer and employee but really just shine a spotlight on the yawning gap between the two.
It also includes the harsher, darker side to the lives of perhaps the most important character in the story – the child. These children are, as Nanny at one point accuses the parents of treating them, “an accessory”: something Mom & Dad can polish up and trot out when needed, and ignore the rest of the time. Often they are passed from caregiver to caregiver, changing Nannies with the seasons. While on paper they are worth insane amounts of money, their own feelings of self-worth are impoverished.
It is here where the movie detours from the novel and slaps some Hollywood happy-endingness on to a story that, while may have left the reader with a sad sorrow, was much more true to life. I, for one, am usually a fan of the happy ending. I don’t go to the movies to discover more about the harshness of life – I go to escape and enjoy myself in a place where HEA is a sure thing…a guarantee I can’t get in the real world. However, I also appreciate verisimilitude in a work of fiction, and appreciate the author’s respect for me as a reader; giving me a story that is true rather than glossed over for the sake of my sensibilities. In this, the movie does it’s audience a disservice. I wonder why the director & screenwriter chose to make these changes…was it simply because they want to ensure the audience leaves with warm fuzzies? Or did the true ending of TND hit too close to home for those living lives similar to the X’s? In any case, the film ends with Nanny’s cathartic diatribe causing Mrs. X to undergo a complete character-change. Suddenly Mrs. X is no longer the woman who can’t be bothered by even the gravest needs of her offspring (as demonstrated by her reaction to the news he was suffering a 104 degree fever while she was away at the spa) – and the film ends showing clips of her snuggling with her son, and eating gasp! pb&j with him.
While it is nice (especially for the sake of the children involved) to suppose that such a change could happen so easily and, more importantly, be permanent, I have to say the book’s ending (which you can read for yourself) is a much more accurate, if not uplifting, view of the situation. Though it may not leave the reader with the same sense of neat&tidy resolution that the viewer gets, the book’s realistic ending adds credence to the entire story and leaves the reader, like the nanny in the book, pausing to wonder just how that little boy will turn out…and if the X’s will ever discover what’s worth the most in life.