This book to film comparison contains spoilers.
Where do I start with this one? The novel of The Nanny Diaries was in itself a collection of anecdotes woven haphazardly through a plot. I didn’t really establish an emotional connection with the characters, and it wasn’t just because almost all of them operated under pseudonyms. The movie adaptation was in some ways an improvement from the novel, but did fall down in other areas.
For clarity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the protagonist as Nanny, since that is her only name in the book and the name she usually answers to in the movie.
Nanny’s family and the Harvard Hottie
In the book, Nanny’s grandmother plays a strong role, whereas in the movie she has been completely ignored. Her father has also been eliminated. In fact, the movie would have it seem that Nanny’s only family member is her mother. Perhaps this was an attempt to show the stark contrast between a good, strong mother (Nanny’s) and a weak mother (Grayer’s).
I’m not a fan of this change. The book compared and contrasted two families with the same key players: a mother, father, grandmother, and child. What makes Nanny’s upbringing so different from Grayer’s (apart from the economic gap) is that Book Nanny has always had a healthy family relationship: her father is not absent, her mother is not distant, and her grandmother is a flesh and blood human being, not someone trotted out to keep her son in line.
Instead, Movie Nanny has a dysfunctional relationship of her own to deal with, exhibited by the fact that she can’t even tell her mother that she has become a nanny.
Rather than exploring Nanny’s other family members (if she has any) the movie spends time developing the character of the Harvard Hottie. He is made into a more sympathetic and three-dimensional character, complete with his own stories about being brought up by various nannies.
The biggest improvement to his character is that he actually seems interested in Nanny. In the book, he is more distant and their relationship seems to come out of nowhere, driven mostly by Nanny’s persistence rather than any deeper chemistry or connection between the two of them.
Being a nanny
For Book Nanny, the X family is not her first nanny gig. She has years of nanny experience, comes highly recommended, and happens to be working adjacent to her chosen field (child development).
Book Nanny’s job and her appointment with the Xes is not a failure. She does have a chance encounter with Mrs X in Central Park but she certainly didn’t just fall into the job with no idea what she was getting into.
The movie sees Nanny graduating from business and anthropology. Maybe the change of fields is supposed to make Nanny seem like more of a go-getter but she is prevented from any go-getting by her sudden existential crisis in a job interview. Though the anthropological background comes in handy to set various scenes, the whole plot of the movie is about how Nanny’s not interested in studying anthropology.
Since the protagonist is floundering for most of the movie, it actually becomes hard to take her seriously. It’s not surprising then that Grayer seems to doubt her authority. She also develops a strong emotional attachment to the child, telling Grayer that she loves him despite stating on numerous occasions that she will only be his nanny for the summer (Book Nanny was to be with Grayer for an indefinite period).
I understand her affection for him but Book Nanny handles that department far better. She seems fond of him, and accepts his expressions of love but doesn’t reciprocate. She seems utterly uninterested in providing fodder for whatever future therapy Grayer will have to undergo.
I find it difficult to reconcile Movie Nanny’s supposed loved for Grayer with the way she allowed herself to be shipped away from the house in Nantucket. In the book, Grayer is in his bedroom and calling for Nanny to turn the light on; he doesn’t witness her being driven away. In the movie, Nanny watches from the taxi with her trademark confused expression as Grayer runs after her.
This scene, in all honesty, makes Nanny seem incredibly weak. She has nothing to lose here. She doesn’t need a recommendation from the X family because caring for children has nothing to do with the career she has trained for. She doesn’t need to keep in their good graces. Nor is it Mr X who is driving the car (as he did in the book) so the driver has no special desire to prevent her from seeing the kid. Rather than being a heartbreaking moment in Nanny’s life, this scene makes me more frustrated than ever with her lack of ability to drive the action in her own story.
Mr and Mrs X
In the book, the tension between Mr and Mrs X stem mainly from lack of communication, Mr X’s absence, and Mrs X never properly acknowledging or dealing with her husband’s affair—a coping mechanism borne from her own experiences as his former mistress. Since Movie Nanny lives with the Xes (Book Nanny lived separately), she is witness to every detail of their marriage, including all of their screaming matches.
This means that Nanny should be privy to any visit from Ms Chicago (Mr X’s mistress) but the woman is only seen once, and that encounter takes place in Mr X’s office. Movie Nanny doesn’t have to deal with the issue of her tenuous loyalties since Ms Chicago doesn’t simply set up house when Mrs X isn’t around. The affair is relatively well hidden and (apart from the discovered lingerie) doesn’t seep into the family home.
In place of some of the appearances by Ms Chicago, Mr X makes a move on Nanny while they are in Nantucket. The book, on the other hand, makes it clear that Mr X sees Nanny as basically another piece of the furniture. Any dalliances that he has apart from Ms Chicago are kept to people in his socioeconomic circle, which does not include Nanny.
Mrs X’s transformative journey after viewing nanny’s tape is an important end to the story, showing that Nanny at least has had some positive influence during her time with the Xes. She has, at least, made Grayer’s life mimic her own in a way, leaving him with a loving mother rather than a completely dysfunctional family unit.
In the book, which ends abruptly after the teddy bear/Nanny-Cam tape, it is not clear, relevant, or necessary to reveal any change in Mrs X. The story is ultimately about Nanny’s journey and it seems that her aloofness with Grayer has paid off; she doesn’t need to know or share what has become of him after she leaves the house. The ending to the book is a strange one, and I think it comes back to the whole story being made up of various anecdotes. By nature, anecdotes don’t need to have a resounding conclusion or carry a moral message. They are just told to completion and left for others to ponder.
Both the book and movie of The Nanny Diaries have left me feeling confused as to whether or not I like the story. While I can point out which aspects are better explored by each medium, I don’t think either of them is a total triumph over the other. I think it is easier to pick and choose elements from the book and movie and then cobble together a separate, satisfying story separate from both.