A Diane Keaton flop? Say it ain't 'so'

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

The new Diane Keaton comedy "Because I Said So" is wince-inducing. I don't know anybody who doesn't love Keaton, and she's often been good in even second-rate vehicles like "The Family Stone" and "Something's Gotta Give." But in her new movie, her luck runs out.

She plays Daphne Wilder, a single mother hen with three grown daughters, the youngest of whom, Milly (Mandy Moore), is unmarried and unlucky with men (like Mom). So Daphne decides to place an ad in the online personals to find Milly the perfect guy.

You can see where this is going right away – nowhere interesting. We are subjected to a rapid-fire montage of Daphne interviewing prospective suitors for her daughter in a restaurant, and each is grubbier and creepier than the last. When Jason (Tom Everett Scott), a good-looking, successful architect shows up, Daphne lights up. Meanwhile, Johnny (Gabriel Macht), the restaurant's free-spirited lounge musician, overhears what's going on. He decides he's interested in Milly, too.

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Jason and Johnny are presented as polar opposites: the well-heeled businessman who lives in a Los Angeles hilltop aerie versus the bohemian, who turns out to be a single dad and lives in a funky Venice canal district. Milly ends up dating both of them, without either guy being any the wiser. Even though it's obvious which one she will end up with, director Michael Lehmann and screenwriters Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson stretch things out interminably.

Keaton certainly has her flighty side – it's part of her immense charm – but in "Because I Said So" she has been encouraged to act like a raving loony. Daphne is more than a meddling mother, she's a walking disaster area. She settles down a bit when she hooks up with Johnny's father (Stephen Collins) and experiences newfound bliss, but by then it's too late. A cartoon is still a cartoon whether it's got a smile or a frown plastered across its face.

Daphne uses Milly's predicament to right her own life's wrongs, and, in a smarter movie, this situation might have been the occasion for more than just a load of bad jokes and gloppy heart-to-heart confabs.

Neither Milly nor her two sisters (played by Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo) demonstrate the slightest resentment or concern regarding their mother's antics. (And one of the daughters is a psychologist, no less). Yes, they roll their eyes and get exasperated, and Milly shuts her down for awhile. But it's all just fun and games. They deal with Daphne the way one would deal with a particularly cantankerous but lovable pet.

I'm not saying that this doodle should have been a Eugene O'Neill drama. But too little attention is paid to even the most rudimentary interpersonal dynamics. Even the fluffiest comedies need to be grounded in something recognizably human. But Milly, who somehow manages to run her own catering business, is such a wide-eyed snugglepuss that it's difficult to see how she gets through her day without tripping over herself. As for Daphne, she's a caricature of a caricature.

I hope Keaton doesn't begin to make a specialty of these roles. They play into what is least attractive in her repertoire – the loosey-goosey, knockabout side of her that all too swiftly devolves into hysterics. Grade: D

Rated PG-13 for sexual content including, dialogue, some mature thematic material, and partial nudity.

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