February 8, 2007

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Because I Said So (PG-13)
Diane Keaton surgically removes my will to live and then spends her time fraying my very last nerve in the nails-on-a-chalkboard, splinters-under-the-finger-nails movie Because I Said So.

You know what? Screw Annie Hall. Diane Keaton might have once been a worthwhile actress (Play It Again, Sam and The Godfather, parts I and II) but she has made a lot of horrible choices. I mean there’s Something’s Gotta Give (yeah, I say a fed-up “whatever” to your “refreshing portrayal of mature love” — she was screechy). There’s The Other Sister. There’s First Wives Club. There’s Father of the Bride, parts I and II. There’s the voice of the dog in Look Who’s Talking Now. There’s Town & Country. Town & Country! — a horrible, mean, indulgent vehicle for the ego-inflated corpse of Warren Beatty. Recently, while reading Kevin Murphy’s tirade against the film in his book A Year at the Movies I was reminded how that movie wasn’t just lousy, as it did Murphy it made me angry.

Comparatively, the recent works of Keaton make her overly precious role in the overly precious The Family Stone seem almost charming.

But only by comparison.

Because I Said So, however, is the worst of them all. Here Keaton is in the spotlight; here she is quarterbacking the game. It’s her shrill, hysterical (in the hysteria, not the hilarity, sense of the word) performance that drives this movie straight into a muddy ditch.

Daphne (Keaton) is a high-anxiety cake decorator who is mother to two relatively sane daughters — Maggie (Lauren Graham) and Mae (Piper Perabo) — and one utter nutcase, Milly (Mandy Moore), made so by a level of nagging and nudging that can only be called psychological torture. (Here’s an idea for you, Bush administration, hire Keaton to follow around possible terrorists and ask them if that’s what they’re wearing out and suggest to them that they’d look so much better if they pulled their hair back so people could see their pretty faces and told them that they needed to find somebody who’d love them for the special terrorist they are. They’d crack inside of an hour.)

Despite having a mother who questions her every single choice no matter how trivial, Milly has managed to become a chef and start her own catering company. She has a beautiful loft apartment (why is it that the worst movies always have the best real estate?) and she has a lovely singing voice. Nonetheless, Daphne views poor Milly as a horrible failure and, certain that her jelly-willed daughter will never find happiness on her own, Daphne decides to henpeck her into the Life She Deserves by putting an ad on the Internet proclaiming “mother seeking mate for daughter.”

As is required by such a movie, Daphne interviews a score of freaks before meeting the seemingly perfect Jason (Tom Everett Scott). He’s the one, she says, both to herself in the least subtle little scene of fist-pumping and “yes! yes!”s ever to appear in a flaccid comedy and to Johnny (Gabriel Macht), the kind-eyed musician who has skeptically watched her machinations.

With the help of Daphne, Jason maneuvers an introduction to Milly, who just suspects that he’s a flirty client and not the mom-picked jerk we know him to be. To the horror of Daphne, Johnny also maneuvers himself into Milly’s sightline and soon they find themselves in a comfortable groove that also features Johnny’s son and his live-in dad, Joe (Stephen Collins).

It’s Joe where the movie really pulls out all the stops to unabashedly sell itself to the dreamy-eyed boomer woman. Daphne, you see, has lived alone since her daughters’ father died when they were mere girls and even before then she and he did not have a perfect relationship. Now, facing her 60th birthday — and presumably the rest of her life — alone, she is terrified and lonely, and claims her meddling is an attempt to save her daughter from the same fate. Also, Milly, who shares many of her most annoying personality habits, is her vicarious Second Chance at Love. But will Daphne ease up when Joe appears and offers her not just proximity to romance but a chance to have the real thing?

No.

“Ease up” is exactly the direction I would have given Keaton if I were the one behind the camera. “Ease up” promptly followed, probably, by “shut up.” She plays a spastic cartoon character here, not a real woman, which is too bad. It is cool to see women over 30 on screen and even cooler when they get to have romances. But, as though to make up for this moment of enlightenment, the movie requires her to be a fool. She doesn’t know how to use a computer, she keeps dropping her cakes, she judges a man’s personality only by his fool’s gold exterior and, despite being 60 and having three daughters and enough money to live a fairly upscale life, she hasn’t the faintest idea of how to act at a spa.

I blame Keaton for the disappointing silliness of character but not for the muddied, unnecessarily tangled nature of the plot (any romantic comedy watcher worth her truffles can call the outcome of this movie 15 minutes in and the film gives you nothing to make the ride to your well-known destination worthwhile) or the fakey unfunniness of the dialogue. Everything about this movie seems calculated to appeal to certain audiences (older women, their daughters, the older end of the Mandy-Moore-fan spectrum) but none of it was crafted with any care. Like so many movies made with this much naked pandering, this one has an arrogance and a lack of respect for the ticket-buying public that is incomprehensible. Sure, cater to a niche audience but give them something worth their $9 and two hours. Please them and they’ll return in force for your next project. (Tyler Perry has baffled mainstream critics and movie industry types but made a nice living this way.)

So, I suppose, I shouldn’t be quite so hard on Ms. Keaton. Sure, she’s awful in Because I Said So, but the overall awfulness of the movie spreads well beyond her. It’s a team effort. D-

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, some mature thematic material and partial nudity. Directed by Michael Lehmann and written by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson, Because I Said So is an hour and 42 unrelenting minutes long and is distributed in criminally wide release by Universal Pictures.