The family’s in good hands with “Nanny McPhee”
Maybe it’s the Brits. Seems whenever our allies from across the pond are involved in family fare you can rest assured it will be thought provoking, filled with utterly precocious and plucky kids, and– most important of all– it will be well acted. In other words, Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler are nowhere in sight.
Americans seem to find fancy in tripe like “Cheaper By the Dozen,” “Yours, Mine and Ours” (wish it wasn’t), and Disney remakes or resurrections of TV shows. But anytime the cast or crew of a family film is filled with UK products, chances are it’s going to be fun.
“Nanny McPhee,” is a good example. Not a classic by any stretch, but whimsical, occasionally witty, and filmed in bright colors with important life lessons sprinkled throughout. Parents will not be bored, and can rest assured that there won’t be any profanity and potty humor is kept to a minimum. Even when the kids involved in the film are at their most mischievous their comedy is always high brow.
Make no mistake; the seven children of recently widowed Mr. Cedric Brown (the always reliable Colin Firth) are miscreants, successfully driving out 17 previous nannies with their deplorable behavior. Enter Nanny McPhee. Portrayed under heavy makeup by Emma Thompson, who also wrote the screenplay, her first since “Sense and Sensibility,” McPhee promises to take control and teach the unruly children five important rules. With her formidable but calm presence and the aid of a magical cane, this Nanny means business. Her message is a simple one: “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.”
As a grieving widower who still talks to his late wife’s sitting chair, Cedric lacks the gumption to discipline his children. In order to maintain a financial allowance from his rich, haughty Aunt Adelaide (played splendidly over-the-top by Angela Lansbury), he must quickly marry.
Based on the “Nurse Matilda” books by Christiana Brand, the film, sort of an anti-Mary Poppins tale, is neither groundbreaking nor unpredictable– we know who should get together, how Nanny McPhee will transform, and that the kids ultimately are quite adorable. But this isn’t one of your dumbed-down American films; it has British fingerprints all over it. And by Jove, it is better mannered than most of its peers.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some rude humor, and brief language.