A Nagging Feeling
Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore can't transcend formulaic pap about a pushy mom
Mandy Moore: Very likable. She's 22, she still has her own face, and as an adult, at least lately, she hasn't given into the anorexic Hollywood ethos so prevalent among actresses and their handlers. She looks like a regular young woman. And she can act, which never hurts.
"Because I Said So": Formulaic romantic junk starring Keaton and Moore as aggravating mother and doormat daughter, living and loving in sunny, smog-free Los Angeles, where even the "regular" people live in zillion-dollar Venice Beach Craftsman cottages by the canal. The film, directed by Michael Lehmann (who did "Heathers" in earlier, meaner days), comes from a screenplay by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson that's more like a screenplay kit. The results rest entirely and uncomfortably on the shoulders of its women.
The problem with parental characters who are noodges is this: If you don't write them correctly, all they do is noodge, noodge, noodge. Keaton plays long-divorced Daphne, meddler and yenta supreme. With her older daughters taken care of, she focuses her relational machinations on the youngest, Milly (Moore), a caterer by trade, who looks to her older siblings (Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo) for comfort and kinship, in the form of eye-rolling, shoulder-shrugging reaction shots.
Behind Milly's back Daphne places an online ad to find her daughter a man. Prime candidate is architect Jason (Tom Everett Scott), though a dating interloper enters the picture in the form of musician Johnny (Gabriel Macht). Soon Milly is torn between two lovers, not knowing her mother's role in all this.
It's easy to tell which dreamboat in "Because I Said So" has the edge, just as it's grimly obvious how the screenwriters are going to solve the problem of Daphne's loving intrusiveness. (Hint: Johnny has a single dad played by Stephen Collins, Keaton's husband in "The First Wives Club.") Keaton does all she can to enliven this desperate stereotype, coming dangerously close to overworking that smile in the process. But director Lehmann has no real knack for filming physical comedy. And there's a ton of it: Daphne getting woman-handled by a dour masseuse; Daphne getting a cake in the face; Daphne getting what she has missed all her adult life in the bedroom department.
In their accidental meeting, Johnny tells Daphne that the architect she wants for her daughter has "empty eyes." By the time you realize that no heterosexual male has ever said that of any other heterosexual male, the debate about who's best for Milly is already over. Romantic comedies aren't long on surprises as a rule, but you want the characters to live and breathe for themselves, amid all the narrative machinery.
At one point Keaton's sniffy character refers to Johnny as an unreliable heartbreaker-musician, all wrong for Milly, and he replies: "I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype." The line's from "Annie Hall." It's always nice to be reminded of "Annie Hall," and any film with Keaton has a way of doing so. But out-and-out quotations make it that much harder for "Because I Said So" to establish its own personality. A decade ago Lehmann made "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," and in that similarly hoked-up project he and his cast (especially Janeane Garofalo) managed to redeem all the plot's misunderstandings. Here, it's not just Daphne who can't let go. The whole movie feels pushy.