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.
Labels: Laura Linney, Mommy Wars, The Nanny Diaries