Tag Archives: B-

NANNY

Producers: Nikkia Moulterie and Daniela Taplin Lundberg   Director: Nikyatu Jusu   Screenplay: Nikyatu Jusu   Cast: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Spector, Sinqua Walls, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams, Olamide Candide-Johnson, Jahleel Kamara, Zephanie Idoko, Ebbe  Bassey and Princess Adenike   Distributor: Amazon Studios/Prime Video

Grade: B-

The debut feature of Nikyatu Jusu, who has made a number of well-received short films as well as teaching at George Mason University, is many things—perhaps too many.  But propelled by an extraordinary lead performance by Anna Diop, it’s engrossing if structurally somewhat rickety.

“Nanny” is, at its core, a portrait of an immigrant exploited by her employers.  Aisha (Diop) has arrived from Senegal, and lives with her aunt (Ebbe Bassey).  She takes a position as nanny for little Rose (Rose Decker), the daughter of Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and Adam (Morgan Spector), who have an elegant apartment in a high rise; she works in any unspecified but apparently lucrative office position, while he’s a photojournalist who specializes in covering socio-political unrest in various areas of the world.  Aisha’s goal is to save enough money to bring her six-year old son Lamine (Jahleel Kamara), whom she’s left in Africa in the care of her cousin Mariatou (Olamide Candide-Johnson), to America.

At first the job seems nearly perfect.  Rose takes to her quickly, and both Amy and Adam are pleased with how she’s getting the child to overcome her reluctance to eat, and moving her along in her French lessons.  But before long Amy starts to ask her to work overtime and stay overnight; worse, she proves erratic about paying her.  Adam, meanwhile, is a bit too friendly—as well as unwilling to talk to his wife about paying Aisha—and Amy’s obvious suspicions about his womanizing, relayed when she asks the nanny to watch him, prove well-grounded when he goes too far in responding to Aisha’s thanks for helping with her back pay.  Amy, moreover, is clearly rattled by her daughter’s increasing closeness to her nanny, especially a preference for Senegalese food, which she thinks too spicy for the girl.

Still Aisha soldiers on, well aware that, as he aunt has reminded her, nanny jobs like hers are hard to come by.  And she’s bitterly conscious of the way she was treated by Lamine’s father, a wealthy man who got her pregnant young and then refused to support her or the boy.  Only her work as a teacher allowed her to rear him and make it to the United States herself.

Under the circumstances it’s understandable that Aisha’s mood should grow darker, especially since her conversations with Lamine are becoming strained and it appears that she might be unable to keep her promise to get him to America in time for his birthday.  But are the nightmares and hallucinations she begins to experience signs of deeper psychological issues, or perhaps of some supernatural force at work?

That possibility emerges when Aisha begins dating Malik (Sinqua Walls), the jovial security guard at the high rise, and a single dad himself.  She meets his grandmother Kathleen (Leslie Uggams), whose keen intuitive powers would mark her as a witch back in Africa.  She reveals that Malik’s mother suffered from schizophrenia (could Aisha be as well?), but also suggests that Aisha’s increasingly terrifying visions, most involving water and sea creatures (as well as her increasing instability—including losing sight of Rose in the park after seeing a mysterious boy there, or an episode with a bathtub that recalls the mental deterioration of another nanny, the one played by Bette Davis in Seth Holt’s 1960 British thriller) might be attributed to spiritual forces at work back home.  Rose even mutters some remarks about Senegalese myths that support the latter theory.

The addition of these psychological, cultural and religious elements to the more direct immigrant story increases the depth and weightiness of the whole, but also lends a degree of narrative clumsiness, since editor Robert Mead can’t integrate them as seamlessly as one might like.  Nonetheless those are the elements that contribute the advertised element of horror to the proceedings, and they are given a mutedly creepy tone by Jusu, production designer Jonathan Guggenheim and cinematographer Rina Yang, as by the score by Tanerelle Bartek, which incorporates some Senegalese song.  And a major reveal at the close does attempt to tie everything together.

The supporting cast is fine, with Monaghan, Walls and Spector adding touches to their thinly-written characters that help to raise them above stereotypical sketches.  Decker is charmingly unaffected as Rose, and Uggams brings gravity to a role that might otherwise seem faintly comical.  But it’s Diop who anchors the film with a turn that transcends any suggestion of mere horror, making Aisha an indelible portrait of hope, disappointment and finally anguish.

Thanks to her and Jusu, while uneven and at times unwieldy “Nanny” is worth watching.              

ENOLA HOLMES 2

Producers: Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Ali Mendes, Millie Bobby Brown and Robert Brown   Director: Harry Bradbeer   Screenplay: Jack Thorne   Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, David Thewlis, Louis Partridge, Susan Wokoma, Adeel Akhtar, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Serrana Su-Ling Bliss, Abbie Hern, Hannah Dodd, Gabriel Tierney, Tim McMullen and Helena Bonham Carter   Distributor: Netflix

Grade: B-

Unlike his first Netflix film based on a YA book series about Sherlock Holmes’s spunky younger sister, which was a fairly close adaptation of the first of Nancy Springer’s novels “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” Harry Bradbeer’s sequel, co-written by Jack Thorne, contrives a largely original plot featuring the same major characters.  It proves an amusing enough period adventure for the targeted family audience, especially tween girls, though some new failings have been added to those inherited from its predecessor.

The screenplay’s conceit is to connect its fictional plot to a historical event—the so-called Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888.  Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), attempting to establish her own detective agency, is approached by an unusual client—a girl working at the match factory named Bessie Chapman (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss), who asks her to find her sister and co-worker Sarah, who has disappeared.  (Sarah Chapman was, in fact, one of the leaders of the matchgirls’ strike.)  She accepts the case—the only one she’s offered—despite opposite from the Chapman girls’ roommate Mae (Abbie Hern), who moonlights as a dancer in a music hall.

Undertaking her investigation, Enola learns that the factory is a very successful operation as a result of switching from red to white phosphorus in the production of their matches, but also that many of the women in its workforce have been struck by a mysterious illness.  Following up on what she’s learned, she becomes implicated in a murder and is targeted for arrest by Grail (David Thewlis), a sinister police superintendent.

As a result her work comes to the attention of her brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill), who since the disappearance of their ostentatiously progressive, feminist mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), also serves as her guardian.  He’s working on his own case—one involving a complicated scheme embezzling funds from the Treasury Department run by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles McIntyre (Tim McMullen).  As it turns out, the siblings’ two cases are interrelated.

That becomes evident to Enola when she attends a ball where both William Lyon (Gabriel Tierney), the privileged son of the factory owner, and her admirer, the reformist Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), are in attendance, along with a lovely young lady named Cicely (Hannah Dodd), the Chancellor and his assistant Mira Troy (Sharon Duncan-Brewster).  Everything comes to a head, and all secrets are revealed, after another murder, in a final confrontation backstage in a theatre.

“Enola 2” has many of the same virtues as its predecessor.  The performances—by Brown, Cavill, Bonham Carter, Partridge, Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade, and Susan Wokoma as Edith, Eudoria’s suffragette comrade—are again committed and fun, and Thewlis chews up the scenery gleefully as the corrupt cop.  The Dickensian milieu of 1888 London (coincidentally, the year of the Jack the Ripper murders) is again nicely caught in the visuals, thanks to production designer Michael Carlin, costumer Consolata Boyle and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens.  Adam Bosman’s editing generally moves things along in a sprightly fashion, and Daniel Pemberton’s score is mostly fine.

But things go awry musically when a fight between Enola, Eudoria and Edith on the one hand, and Grail and his corrupt bobbies on the other is accompanied by the stains of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”—a truly tacky choice.  That fight itself is too long and violent—as are the others in the film, especially the protracted, and rather ugly, final combat in the theatre.  The habit of Enola breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly, a carryover from the first movie, gets irritating.  And once again the solutions that Enola and Sherlock come up with seem arbitrary, or at least insufficiently explained for the viewer to follow logically.  One could also question the wisdom of twisting the elements of a serious historical event to serve the needs of a pretty juvenile plot.

And yet “Enola Holmes 2,” like the first picture in what will probably be a continuing series, has enough pluses to overcome the minuses.  It also includes a clever added sequence that, like the teasers in the Marvel superhero movies, is a reason to watch through the closing credits.