Why me, Nanny McPhee?
Why is it my task to review your movie? I don't even like
fairytale movies. I mean, I dig the Harry Potters and all —
quite a bit, actually — but the rest? I was bored halfway
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And Lemony
Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events? It started
out focused on those seemingly interesting Baudelaire children
but quickly devolved into little more than yet another vehicle
for celebrity cameos and Jim Carrey's scenery chewing.
Even "adult" fairytales like Joe Versus the Volcano
and Pretty Woman I find to be insipid if not outright
So, you see my dilemma, Nanny McPhee. I just don't want to
be unfair to you because . . . well, frankly, you
The movie Nanny McPhee (based on the series of "Nurse
Matilda" books from the 1960s) introduces us to Mr. Cedric
Brown (Colin Firth), a befuddled widower with a brood of evil
children. Okay, maybe not "evil, per se, but wretchedly
unruly for sure. Their latest prank — convincingly fabricating
a supper in which the main course is roasted baby — has
chased off the last nanny in town.
Watching such limp-wristed dads "golly gee" and
"oh dear" their way through not dealing with their
kid's destructive behavior — not so much a s a raised
voice (especially that numbnuts Steve Martin in those Cheaper
By The Dozen movies) — makes my blood boil. As an
African-American father of two, descended from a long line of
black, Negro, colored and African fathers who were all deacons
in the church of "Whip his ass!", I find that almost
offensive. Label it a "culture discrepancy" if you
As I sat in the theater watching Mr. Brown's children proceed
to trash their own kitchen and hogtie the cook I found my fingers
absently reaching to undo my own belt and administer some justice. . . .
Without solicitation, the mysterious, black-garbed Nanny McPhee
(Emma Thompson) appears and the air goes still. She is a commanding
presence and with her bulbous nose, grape-sized warts, unibrow
and errant, protruding front tooth, she's quite hideous —
even by British standards. She speaks softly and carries a big
stick. And I mean a really BIG magical walking stick that conceivably
could've been wrenched from the hands of a dying Gandalf the
You almost cringe as the children first try to ignore then
defy her — especially if you've ever suffered the indignity
of being dispatched to fetch a switch from a tree that was to
be used in your own beating, and thus instinctively have a certain
fear/respect for all wielded sticks.
Nanny McPhee is a Bizarro Mary Poppins with a dark, almost
sinister streak that more than matches the kid's. There's little
doubt who'll win this contest of wills, but the forecast for
the Brown children's immediate future is PAIN. On the road to
submission for them it gets a lot worse before it gets better.
To quote James Brown: "Papa don't take no mess!"
BUT, it does get better. Eventually it becomes clear
that Nanny McPhee's agenda consists of not only whipping the
children into shape and installing a backbone into Mr. Brown
so he can stand up to his controlling Great Aunt Adelaide (Angela
Lansbury), but mainly to get this family to piece itself back
together. It's everything you would expect from a movie British
nanny. (In Amercian movies the job of helping white people get
their lives back on track usually falls to magical and sassy
Negroes like Bagger Vance and Queen Latifah.)
The comedic performances in Nanny McPhee are top notch
from the entire cast. Even the child actors are much better
than what I've come to accept (again, see Narnia). But
I just cannot say enough about how much I loved Angela Lansbury,
who returns to the big screen after a 20-year absence. She's
like a living Tim Burton character as the snobbish, overbearing
Great Aunt who lords her riches and title over everyone. She's
so deliciously over the top and I couldn't get enough of her
all-too-brief performance. The screen lit up every time she
Of course special kudos go to Emma Thompson, who not only
plays the title character but wrote the screenplay. It's smart,
hilarious, touching and poignant. It speaks to the kids and
more than nods to the adults. Once you get past all the hocus
pocus, life lessons, pie fights and the talking horse, it's
really a story of a family dealing with grief and learning not
to wallow in personal pain so they can heal together. Most of
it comes down to simply listening to each other.
And even though it acknowledges other fairytales (practically
making fun of them), at the end of the day it's still a fairytale
itself. As such it's subject to all the usual trappings: Love
conquers all; the bad guys get humiliated, the musical score
is too much and the special effects are kinda on the cheap.
Still, the happy ending is well earned and not quite as cliched
as I expected. Throughout the movie one of Nanny McPhee's oft-repeated
"When you need me, but do not want me, then I will stay.
When you want me, but do not need me, then I have to go."
And when that time comes, there is no extended, cloying plea
for her to stay. It's as if everyone in the film and the audience
is satisfied that her work here is indeed done.
On the whole I found the movie to be somewhat moving and inspiring.
How inspiring, you ask?
Well, enough to spur me to try to get a jump on the next Hollywood
trend. My next project is to take some of these movies based
on classic British literary fairytales and adapt them as Afro-centric
musicals, a la Tyler Perry.
You feel me?
I figure I'll start with Nanny McPhee. Right now my
working title is Siddown, Boy! 'Fore I Put This Stick On
Eh, it's a work in progress. I just gotta get my people to
talk to James Brown's people. . . .