Movie Review – Nanny (2022)

Nanny2022.

Written and directed by Nikyatu Jusu.
Starring Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams, Zephani Idoko, Olamide Candide-Johnson, Jahleel Kamara, Princess Adenike, Mitzie Pratt, Keturah Hamilton, Stephanie Jae Park and Ebbe Bassey.

SUMMARY:

Crafting a new life for herself in New York City while raising a child for an Upper East Side family, immigrant nanny Aisha is forced to confront a hidden truth that threatens to destroy her precarious American dream.

What’s more terrifying than subtle racism directed at an undocumented immigrant just trying to do his job and live out his version of the American Dream? This is the basis for writer/director Nikyatu Jusu (a prominent short filmmaker making her feature film debut) Nannyfollows Senegalese caretaker Aisha (a notable breakthrough by Anna Diop) who has just been hired by a wealthy white family as a live-in babysitter for their five-year-old daughter Rose (Rose Decker).

Rose is known for disobeying janitors and causing trouble, especially when she refuses to eat. Aisha has none of these problems. Instead, the young girl asks if they can try some Senegalese cuisines, quickly like them and solve this problem. Meanwhile, parents Amy and Adam (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector, respectively) are distant and quibbling when they’re in the same room. This happens to the extent that their self-centered behavior makes them act as careless guardians (Adam even goes so far as to make an unwelcome romantic move towards Aisha), with Aisha as the true nurturer. Eventually, Amy catches a glimpse of Rose wolfing down the delicious African food and quickly snapping at Aisha with what appears to be racist intent under the guise that “the food might be too spicy.”

There are several similar instances where Nanny cuts devastatingly to the damaged core of how wealthy American families treat their workers (particularly black ones), powerfully heightened by cuts to Anna Diop expressing inwardly strong body language despite being insecure and nervous is how it should be. Sure, she can speak up and defend her dignity, but she also desperately needs the money to get her son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara) to America as soon as possible to celebrate his birthday. It also doesn’t help that Amy frequently asks Aisha to take care of Rose’s overtime, often causing her to cut her pay or completely forget to compensate her. In return, Aisha must repeatedly bring this misconduct to Adam, who has ulterior motives.

All of this is a way of expressing the dramatic elements of Nanny thoughtfully depict racial dynamics and call for a nuanced and layered performance from Anna Diop, who takes on the situation. Whenever she communicates with her son via Zoom (or something like that), we can feel her heart aching and wish them to be reunited. At the same time, her connection with Rose is sweet and moving, up until a few missteps in the third act. The second she politely asks Rose to go to her room, ready to vent her anger at the family’s mistreatment of her responsible professional care doing is a jubilant moment. And doubly so when you consider that Amy is the kind of willfully ignorant white woman who thinks that as a woman she can create frustrations in the workplace and find instant common ground with an African woman.

There is also a horror aspect Nanny (that’s how the film has been discussed and marketed since it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), with dream sequence visions of floods, power outages leading to encounters with the African water spirit Mami Wata, and bedtime stories of the trickster spider Anansi. This folklore is refreshing and welcome, but the problem with Nanny is that most of its supernatural fright (if you want to call it that) is overcompensated in hopes of adding depth to a big reveal that’s impossible not to miss.

However, the difference between Nanny and utterly predictable genre fare is its rich characters and compelling dynamics, often exquisitely lit and enhanced with cinematographer Rina Yang’s gorgeous blues and greens. Certain plot points leave you wanting more (particularly a somewhat underdeveloped romantic relationship between Aisha and Sinqua Walls’ single father, Malik, even as they engage in a particularly riveting conversation), and the endgame feels both abruptly draining and disjointed, yet rewarding.

But Anna Diop refuses to drown beneath such blemishes in an otherwise visually arresting, intriguingly crafted, engrossingly acted tale of escalating problematic racial dynamics and mystical horror. However, there is an unequal balance in quality Nanny is nevertheless beautiful and makes both the director and the star crazy.

SEE ALSO: Exclusive Interview – Nanny Star Anna Diop Talks African Folklore, Works With Jordan Peele and More

Flickering Myth Rating – Movie: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow mine Twitter or letterboxd or email me at [email protected]

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