I’m known for actually liking the romantic comedy format when it works, and even for cutting it some slack when it doesn’t entirely. In this regard, I’m sometimes considered a bit of a sap for this sort of entertainment. However, I’m not sappy enough to fall for Michael Lehmann’s atrocious Because I Said So—yet another generically titled Diane Keaton vehicle designed to appeal to the matinee crowd à la Nancy Meyers’ overrated and overlong Something’s Gotta Give (2003). (I am convinced that Hollywood breaks out these uninspired and unmemorable titles just so people will go to the box office and ask for “that movie with, you know, what’s-her-name in it.” It’s their idea of fun.)
I’ve nothing against the matinee crowd—I’m in that age group myself. In fact, my complaint is that they deserve better than this sort of thing. So, for that matter, do Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore (though I’ll admit that Moore fares better in the movie than Keaton). Because I Said So is the kind of flat-footed creation that works on the basis of building a story around a cobbled-together kind of playlist of “all those things our star does so well.” Screenwriters Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson (Stepmom) must have viewed hours and hours of Diane Keaton performances to amass the catalog of the actress’ charming eccentricities that fill the film (some they liked so well that they used them multiple times). The movie’s like a Keaton’s Greatest Hits package—and like most greatest hits packages, it never gets beneath the surface. The mannerisms are all there, but they grow out of nothing.
And in the case of Because I Said So, these mannerisms are slapped onto a character whose only claim to likability is that she’s played by Diane Keaton. In every other capacity, the monster mother who tries to play Internet matchmaker for her youngest daughter is anything but likable. She’s about on par with the mother played by Jane Fonda in Robert Luketic’s Monster-in-Law (2005) in terms of nastiness, but Fonda’s character would require a lobotomy to make her as terminally dumb as Keaton’s character. At least Fonda’s creation was amusing in her cartoonish, gorgonish campiness.
It isn’t just that Keaton’s Daphne is a shamelessly conniving control freak, whose machinations are more creepy than charming. It’s that she’s also abysmally stupid. Daphne is a compendium of silly clichés that just aren’t funny. The days when, as Woody Allen told her in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), there was nothing wrong with her character that couldn’t be cured “with Prozac and a polo mallet” are long gone here. Even with Keaton’s patented klutzy schtick, is it really funny that a woman on the edge of 60 is so backwards that she can’t figure out how to close a (mildly pornographic) Web site or at least turn off the sound? No, it’s a lame, insulting “those old folks are such a technically-challenged hoot” affair at its worst. (Having the same Web site so arouse her patented cute-reaction-shot dog into such a frenzy of libido that he attempts conjugal relations with a hassock, on the other hand, is just plain ick-inducing.) This—along with not one, but two of those skin-crawling moments when families get together to display their lack of musical abilities and their Wonder Bread sense of rhythm—is the sort of thing that makes up the film’s interminable 102-minute running time.
I don’t even want to discuss the “excuse” that mom is so obsessed with her daughters’ love lives because she’s never had an orgasm, nor the plot’s inclusion of a spoiled brat who could serve as the poster boy for Ritalin, but whom we’re supposed to find absolutely precious. (This kid would bring out the W.C. Fields in any sane person.)
But it’s not all the fault of the material. There’s also plenty of blame to hand to director Michael Lehmann, a man whose filmmaking cred rests on one movie, Heathers, made back in 1989. Lehmann’s true quality seems more grounded in such subsequent dogs as Hudson Hawk (1991), My Giant (1998) and 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002). This time around, he’s apparently unable to find anything like a consistent tone, falling back on badly executed slapstick at every turn. The man doesn’t even seem to be trying: There’s a potentially charming scene involving a balloon stuck to the back of Mandy Moore’s dress by static electricity, which he handles in such a way that you can virtually see the double-stick tape holding the balloon to her skirt. Moore at least manages to be appealing in spite of everything, while Keaton is defeated by the film at every turn. But the real loser is the audience. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, some mature thematic material and partial nudity.