Movie Review – Nanny (2022)

Nanny, 2022.

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.


Immigrant nanny Aisha, piecing together a new life in New York City while caring for the child of an Upper East Side family, is forced to confront a concealed truth that threatens to shatter her precarious American Dream.

What is more terrifying than subtle racism directed at an undocumented immigrant simply trying to do their job and eke out their version of the American dream? This is the foundation for writer/director Nikyatu Jusu’s (a prominent shorts filmmaker making her feature-length debut) Nanny, centered on Senegalese caretaker Aisha (a remarkable breakthrough performance from Anna Diop), who has just been hired by a wealthy white family as a live-in babysitter to their five-year-old daughter Rose (Rose Decker).

Rose is known for disobeying caretakers and causing trouble, especially refusing to eat. Aisha doesn’t have any of these problems. Instead, the young girl asks if she can try some Senegalese cuisines, quickly liking them and solving that problem. Meanwhile, parents Amy and Adam (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector, respectively) are distant and quibbling whenever they are in the same room. This happens to the extent that they come across as negligent guardians due to their self-absorbed behaviors (Adam even goes as far as making an unwanted romantic move towards Aisha), with Aisha as the true nurturer. Eventually, Amy catches a glimpse of Rose scarfing down the delicious African food, swiftly snapping at Aisha with what feels like racist intent under the guise that “the food could be too spicy.”

There are several similar instances where Nanny devastatingly cuts to the damaged core of how well-off American families treat their workers (especially Black ones), powerfully elevated by cuts to Anna Diop expressing internally strong body language, albeit unsure and nervous of how she should proceed. Sure, she can speak up and defend her dignity, but she also desperately needs the money to bring her son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara) to America ASAP to celebrate his birthday. It also doesn’t help that Amy frequently requests Aisha to look after Rose overtime, often cutting her pay short or outright forgetting to compensate. In turn, Aisha has to repeatedly bring this wrongdoing up to Adam, who has ulterior motives.

All of this is one way of saying the dramatic elements of Nanny thoughtfully depict racial dynamics while demanding a nuanced and layered performance from Anna Diop, who rises to the occasion. Whenever she communicates with her son via Zoom (or something along those lines), we feel her heart hurting and want them to be reunited. Simultaneously, her connection with Rose is sweet and moving until some third-act missteps. The second she politely asks Rose to go to her room, ready to let out some anger against the family’s mistreatment of her responsibly professional caretaking, is a cheer-worthy moment. And doubly so, considering Amy is the kind of willfully ignorant white woman that thinks she can bring out frustrations in the workplace as a woman and instantaneously find common ground with an African woman.

There is also a horror aspect to Nanny (which is how the film has been discussed and marketed since it took on the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), involving dream sequence visions of flooding, blackouts leading to encounters with African water spirit Mami Wata, and bedtime stories of trickster spider Anansi. This folklore is refreshing and welcome, but the issue with Nanny is that most of its supernatural terror (if you want to call it that) is overcompensating, hoping to add depth to a grand reveal that is impossible not to see coming early on.

However, the difference between Nanny and full-on predictable genre fare is its rich characters and compelling dynamics, often exquisitely lit and lensed with the gorgeous blue and green hues from cinematographer Rina Yang. Certain plot points leave one wanting more (especially a somewhat underdeveloped romantic relationship between Aisha and Sinqua Walls’s single father Malik, even if they get one particularly riveting bonding conversation), and the endgame feels both abruptly deflating and disjointed yet rewarding.

But Anna Diop refuses to sink under such blemishes on an otherwise visually absorbing, spellbindingly crafted, absorbingly acted tale of escalating problematic racial dynamics and mystical dread. There’s an uneven balance in quality, although Nanny is beautiful all the same, putting both director and star on the up and up.

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

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


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