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Even Scarlett Johannson Couldn’t Keep Me Interested

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Nanny DiariesA couple of months ago, my wife and I were taking a trip. On the flight back home, my wife started reading The Nanny Diaries. For the next 5 hours, I was subjected to comments like, "Oh my, that's so true... listen to this..." followed by snippet from the book.

For those not familiar with the story, it's about a nanny and all the degrading experiences that her wealthy Manhattan employer puts her through. I didn't the read the book, but when my wife rented the movie last weekend, I figured it was worth a couple of hours of my time. With Scarlett Johannson playing the lead role, the movie couldn't be all bad. I was wrong.

For nearly all of the 106 minutes, it was one over-the-top situation after another. The nanny wasn't treated like a person at any point, but instead a servant. Not only was she poorly paid, and her room essentially a small closet, but she had very little privacy and rarely got a day off. She also was forbidden to have a love life. It wasn't long before I thought that this movie is more unrealistic than any science fiction movie I've ever seen. Anyone would have quit that job in the first week. This would be especially true of this nanny since she has a college degree. At the very worst, she could become a nanny for a different family as the movie made a point of how high the demand is. The explanation the movie gave for her not quitting is that she felt that she might have Stockholm Syndrome. It seemed like a poor explanation for someone undergoing constant abuse. If there's a piece of advice here, it's that you should remember that you are in the business of "you" - think twice before you let your job define who you are.

Without destroying too much of the ending, the nanny learns quite a bit about herself and is a stronger person for having gone through the experience. It was a year of great personal growth. It was at this point, about 100 minutes into the movie, that I found something I could identify with. I've taken a similar action this year - deciding that I should work almost exclusively to improve myself. I only hope that at the end of the year, I discover as many answers as the nanny did.

Posted on January 9, 2008.

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10 Responses to “Even Scarlett Johannson Couldn’t Keep Me Interested”

  1. Mrs. Micah says:

    I read the book a while back. I still wonder why nanny put up with it. In the book, the pay was really good and she kept thinking it would get better. She also kept passing off the things that happened as one-time.

    And then she also felt bad for the kid, sort-of wanted to mother him since his real mom wasn’t paying him any attention.

    But the book was much too depressing for me to want to see the movie.

  2. I agree. That was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen; and my wife agreed.

  3. nwdirector says:

    My wife just PPV’ed the movie this week. I watched about 20 minutes, then went to my office and read your blog instead.

  4. Randall says:

    I know people that have stayed in the same low-paying job for years, making lame excuses like (I get 3 weeks of vacation and I don’t want to lose it). Most of these people suffer from a very low self-esteem problem from my POV. For the most part they don’t feel like they ‘deserve’ to do any better and don’t try to go anywhere.

    It frustrates me because the person I’m referencing here is one of the best artists that I’ve ever seen. His work could allow him to go professional if he wanted to, but he just thinks he’ll fail.

    If you don’t at least try, you always fail.

  5. cytoman says:

    I found it quite insulting for her to suggest that Stockholm Syndrome is the reason for staying in the job. This seems to be yet another example of people who are not willing to accept responsibility and accountability for their OWN choices and actions.

  6. Brip Blap says:

    One of my wife’s very good friends was a nanny when she first immigrated to the US. I disagree with everyone – it is not lame excuses always, or lack of responsibility. She was a smart educated woman from another country and she took the job until she could get her citizenship and get back to work in a professional position (she’s now in senior management for a major bank in their IT department). She had a similarly debasing, unpleasant job but she has told us many, many times that she stayed there (and at her one other nanny job) long enough to form a deep attachment to the kids. She felt so strongly for them that she put up with some abuse. Maybe it’s weak, maybe it’s an excuse, but she said it was tough to think of “abandoning” those kids. I haven’t seen the movie – my wife read the book – so I can’t comment on it, but nannies are in a very odd and very tough position. Don’t be so quick to judge. People can have motivations other than just success or money.

  7. Lazy Man says:

    In the case of your wife’s friend it sounds like her career choices were limited at the time due to her citizenship. That wasn’t the case here and it was an immediately debasing situation – starting in the first 3 minutes she met the boy – maybe even before (at least in the movie).

    I’m not saying she should go for either success or money, but she should at least go for something she enjoys or gets some benefit from.

  8. Brip Blap says:

    Her choices were limited, but I just meant that once she got in the position it wasn’t just so easy to get up and leave it. She really cared for the kids. If it’s an immediately debasing situation I imagine that it’s either (a) an exaggeration for the sake of the art of le cinema or (b) someone trying to get background for a book.

    It’s not so easy for everyone to find success, money, enjoyment or benefit in their work. A lot of people, for whatever reason, are simply seeking a foothold.

    Again, I’m not the best person to argue the movie since I haven’t seen it. I mean to, because occasionally Scarlett Johannson can be, er, quite talented.

  9. Anitra says:

    I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I have a friend who recently switched from an abusive nanny situation to being a special-ed teacher. She debated over doing this for a long time, because a) she had/has a deep attachment to the kids she was supervising (it’s not their fault their parents are horrible), and b) she had no energy left to look for new jobs at the end of the day (and no safety net).

    Even when she did switch, the new job had a drastic pay cut, so while it’s much more enjoyable, she has a hard time meeting her expenses. She has had to look for second and third jobs, which she never had to do as a nanny.

  10. If you believe people don’t mistreat their employees, you need to meet my wife ;-P

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