Friday, August 24, 2007

Mojo Mom on "The Nanny Diaries"

The new movie version of The Nanny Diaries might as well be called The Feminine Mistake: The Movie. (Next I am waiting for a musical version of Perfect Madness.) I was more interested in Fifth Avenue Mommy Mrs. X than I was in Annie the Nanny. Could Laura Linney do for Mrs. X what Meryl Streep did for Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada?

Not quite, but it was because the material didn't lend itself to it. Laura Linney was spectacular as the unsympathetic Mrs. X, adding a glimpse of humanity to a seriously detached mother, caught up in a loveless, shallow, but wealthy lifestyle. I was rooting for her because in the Mommy Wars, Mrs. X is a much too perfect target. 99.9999% of us can get relief from our own insecurity about our imperfections by pointing our fingers at her and saying "At least I am not like THAT bitch." She's self-absorbed, inconsiderate as hell to her nanny, obsessed with shopping and "me time," and doesn't respond to emergency calls to the Canyon Ranch Spa when her son is sick.

Mrs. X is an interesting foil whose chosen flaws tell us a lot about what we perceive as a mother's worst shortcomings. (Not that the father, Mr. X, comes off any better. He is obsessed with work and cheats on his wife. But motherhood is my specialty, so we'll leave Mr. X for now. As Penelope Trunk wrote about recently, criticism of rich workaholic fathers is qualitatively and quantitatively different, and sometimes absent altogether.)

Annie imagines she's visiting this world as an anthropologist, yet a few years down the road, could she find herself in the same trap that ensnares Mrs. X?

At the end of the film (spoiler alert, I guess), Annie is fired from her nanny job, which conveniently frees her up to realize her dream of going to anthropology grad school. She continues to date the rich "Harvard Hottie" she met in the X's building. He's starting law school. Let's imagine they get married. So if she wants a job in academia, and he's a well-connected New York lawyer, whose job will come first? Will she fight it out in the academic pipeline, quit, or hire a nanny herself when kids come along?

Here's the fatal flaw of the movie. We in the audience are all encouraged to identify with the idealistic nanny without really considering how the "Mrs. Xs" of the world are created. Mrs. X graduated from Smith and ran an art gallery before she had her son. She didn't invent the world of Fifth Avenue socializing and might have even been an interesting person at some point. I would argue that Nanny and Mrs. X potentially have a lot more in common than Annie might ever imagine.

So the movie may feel like a cathartic experience for everyone who isn't a Fifth Avenue matron, but for me, joining together to point fingers at Mrs. X just reinforces our tendency blame and criticize each other, and ourselves. It's so tempting to believe that we'll be the exception to the rule, that we'll never be like THOSE _______ mothers (fill in the blank of your own bad mommy stereotype), but if we are ever going to understand the social forces that shape motherhood, we need acknowledge that we too are vulnerable to them. If we fail to challenge the social forces, but instead continue to blame individual women, then we may find ourselves in cages that are less gilded but just as confining as Mrs. X's.

P. S. As a moviegoing experience, The Nanny Diaries was not that entertaining, and correct me if I am wrong, but I think they significantly changed the ending of the story to bring more uplifting closure....I'll have to dig up my copy of the book.

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Blogger Amy said...

Very interesting commentary regarding Nanny Diaries. I read the book, but have not seen the movie (no babysitter!)
I automatically hated Mrs. X, and while I still dislike her immensely for the detatchment and almost disgust for her own child, your observations about how she got that way were enlightening. And you gave me food for thought with regard to how Annie might turn out in the future if she marries her Harvard Hottie. I enjoy your thoughts very much!

6:59 PM  
Anonymous DharMama said...

Thank you for your thoughts about The Nanny Diaries. I left the theatre with a very unsettled feeling. I agreed that Mrs. X was a detached mother and yet I still felt unable to write her off... The irony struck me that the movie was leading me to judge her while I was sitting in the theatre on "date night" with my husband while my babysitter was putting my kids to bed. I know a lot of people to whom date nights are a luxury they can't afford and even others who would NEVER leave their children with a "stranger" and would probably judge me for doing so. I certainly don't think I am spoiled or negligent for having some alone time with my husband. But what if we went out 2 or even 3 nights a week? Is that too much? Who's to judge? How many people do I know that complain that we don't have enough help, that we are burned out and yet society in turn judges people who can afford to have all they need. I know Mrs. X was detached and a negligent parent. That much was made abundantly clear so the audience dare not identify with her. But it was an extreme case which does nothing but reinforce our well ingrained stereotypes about rich people and our disturbing ideal of motherhood. The whole Harvard Hottie irony was ridiculous! Thank you for pointing out the hypocrisy there. I think if people picked up on the deceptively innocent way of how some women end up in high society, a deeper message might be taught.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's easier to tell what someone is like by how they treat their inferiors, not their equals"

-JK Rowling.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Leather Diaries said...

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6:34 AM  

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