February 25, 2023

Nanny (2022)
Grade: 60/100

Director: Nikyatu Jusu
Stars: Anna Diop, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector

What it's about. Aisha (Anna Diop) is an attractive young immigrant from Senegal living in New York City. She gets a job as a nanny for a well-to-do white couple. Both mom and dad work, leaving Aisha in care of their kindergarten-aged daughter Rose (Rose Decker).

The mother is Amy (Michelle Monaghan), a stressed and unreliable office manager. The father is Adam (Morgan Spector), a skirt-chaser often out of town on business trips. Aisha doesn't like them, and for good reason, but she bonds with Rose, and she needs the money. She wants to buy a plane ticket to bring her preadolescent son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara) to America.

Aisha love life perks up when she meets Malik (Sinqua Walls), an attentive young man who lives with his smug, all-knowing grandmother (Leslie Uggams). But Aisha is haunted by nightmares and dark visions that intrude upon her care for Rose.

How others will see it. There is a considerable gulf between how Nanny has been received by critics and viewers. The film had banner success on festival circuit, winning, for example, the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The imdb.com user ratings, though, tell a different story. They range from 5.1 from men over 45 to 5.8 among women under 45.

Why the gulf? Mostly, it has to do with how Nanny was marketed. The producers apparently decided, probably correctly, that a horror movie would make more money than a movie about an undocumented nanny in New York City. So, horror elements were added to the story, but not convincingly since it not fundamentally a horror movie. The result disappointed viewers expecting confrontations with supernatural beings, or serial killers, or something else other than a few mild scares that result in nothing but a hand cut.

The reverse racism may rankle some viewers as well. Our lead and her lover are heroes, while her employers are problematic. Amy is a self-involved and mostly absent mother who underpays Aisha. Adam is a philanderer who sexually assaults his employee.

Also, the awards are not fully due to the worthiness of the movie. The writer/director is a black woman born in Sierra Leone. A film festival that wishes to avoid an OscarsSoWhite Twitter hashtag can check some boxes with trophies to Nanny. But it must be said that Nanny, despite split identity issues, is better than perhaps 90% of the movies written and/or directed by white men, including just about the entire Marvel Universe franchise.

How I felt about it. One wonders how successful Nanny would have been without the horror elements. It would likely have been better. The ending is a mess: there is no reason to kill off Aisha's son, or for Aisha to nearly drown, or to rush through mini-scenes of the happy forever after of Aisha, Malik, and their baby. Amy disappears from the story altogether. Why not cut out the horror, and have the film end with the long-awaited reunion of Aisha with Lamine? Aisha can keep her job as a nanny, since nobody wants to see Rose raised by single dad Adam.

I have blamed unnamed producers for the decision to introduce horror aspects. They are convenient villains. But it may have been Jusu herself who added horror to the story, in an attempt to keep the film from too much resembling the acclaimed (though tedious) Roma (2018). Despite the unwelcome visits from spiders, mermaids, and other supernatural nonsense, it is a good first effort.