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What the heck is an anthropological comedy?

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

“The Nanny Diaries,” currently playing at the Dixie in Downtown Staunton, is the cutest “anthropological comedy” to come alone since … um … well, maybe ever.

It’s a light and spoofy tell-all about upper-class child care on Manhattan’s snooty Upper West Side, told from the point of view of those hard-working ladies, the Nannies.

Scarlett Johansson stars as a young gal just out of college who decides to take a lucrative job as a nanny for a year while she figures out how to make a living from her real passion, anthropology. She signs on with upper crustacean Laura Linney, who turns out to be richy and bitchy and expects Scarlett to completely take over the raising of her son, a cute little kid played by Nicholas Art (you may recognize him from a recent Cheerios commercial).

We quickly learn that Money Ain’t Everything, as Linney’s life seems to be falling apart. Her cheating hubby (Paul Giametti) is distant and self-involved, and her kid is being turned into a needy and neglected little monster. Who will come to save the day?

Hey, sounds kinda like “Mary Poppins,” doesn’t it? There are similar plot points, and Scarlett is even seen visually imagining herself flying with an umbrella. But this film turns into a genuine satire, cleverly presented within the framework of a series of dioramic displays at the Museum of Natural History, slyly depicting the lives of rich folks, nannies, and other Upper West Side denizens.

Scarlett, natch, becomes attached to the kid, Linney’s life crumbles like a week-old Twinkie, and in desperation, our heroine seeks the help and advice of – her own mom! Shades of ancient history! It’s “suburban riff-raff” to the rescue.

Even though the film crashes and burns in the last seven minutes, the first 139 minutes are enjoyable, original, and as entertaining as a film that lacks gunfire and car chases can be. And you don’t have to ever have lived in Manhattan to enjoy this look down the upturned noses of society ladies.

Although the critics jumped on it, “The Nanny Diaries” is witty as all get-out, and no wonder: It’s written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the husband-wife filmmaking team that turned out that charming 2003 Oscar-nommed “American Splendor.”

Scarlett Johansson has been a joy to watch on screen since well before her breakout year (2003, when she was in both “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings” and “Lost in Translation”), and has half-a-dozen new ones in the works right now, including next year’s “Mary Queen of Scots” and another romp with Woody Allen.

For a look at her early work, I suggest you rent the DVD of 2001’s “Ghost World,” a cracking good and original dark comedy also starring my very favorite living actor, Steve Buscemi.

In “The Nanny Diaries,” Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are seen as an upper class married couple fighting, screaming, and making life horrid for their wee child. Next year, you can also catch this wonderful pair of actors playing John and Abigail Adams in the forthcoming TV mini-series adaptation of David McCullough’s biography, “John Adams.” Hope you’re looking forward to that one as much as I am.

So I suggest you ignore those dopey critics yet again, and skip down to the Dixie for this chuckle-filled bowl of fluffy satire. Believe me, if I had based my movie-going choices on the opinions of the so-called experts, I’d spend almost every weekend sitting at home practicing my frown.

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.