Because I Said So
How can you tell when someone is a bona fide movie star? One sign is when she does more for a movie’s writers and director than they do for her. Another—probably, in fact, the sign of a superstar—is when the writers and director go out of their way to make her look ridiculous, pathetic and stupid, yet she manages against all odds to emerge with some of her dignity and much of her charm (more or less) intact. I’ve just seen Because I Said So and I’m here to tell you: Diane Keaton is a superstar.
Keaton built her career making movies with people like Francis Ford Coppola, Warren Beatty and (most especially) Woody Allen. By now she has the acting chops to handle anything anyone wants to throw at her. Even so, she gets a tough row to hoe from director Michael Lehmann and writers Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson. Keaton plays Daphne Wilder, the meddling mother of three grown daughters: Maggie (Lauren Graham), Mae (Piper Perabo) and Milly (Mandy Moore). Since their father did whatever fathers do in movies like this to let the filmmakers ignore their existence, Daphne has been avid to ensure that her girls don’t make the same mistakes she made. Whatever those were. Maggie and Mae are successfully married (whether this is due to or despite Daphne’s efforts is a topic the movie leaves unexplored), so Daphne focuses her concerns on Milly, the youngest.
Milly is a caterer (with cooking skills she supposedly inherited from her mother), but only because it’s one of those jobs, like selling real estate, that the writers of generic chick-flicks think their audience will identify with. Certainly Milly isn’t much—her business is called Good Enuf 2 Eat and she cooks about like she spells, concocting (as in all things, with Mom’s help) the ugliest and least appetizing-looking wedding and bar mitzvah cakes in the history of dessert cuisine, then standing around snitching fingerfuls of frosting during the receptions. (I’d hate to see her references.) Fortunately, the cakes aren’t really meant to be eaten; most of them are brought on by Hopkins, Nelson and Lehmann simply to get dropped in driveways or pushed into their obliging star’s well-preserved face.
The cakes are, in fact, a visual metaphor for the whole movie: Like them, it’s a disorderly, unappetizing rat’s nest of treacly icing slathered over ill-fitting layers. It’s punctuated by nerve-jangling scenes of Daphne and her alliterative daughters squawking and screeching at each other like a coopful of panicky chickens—a display to which the filmmakers resort whenever they think things aren’t funny enough, and which succeeds only in making things less funny. The formula plot has Daphne trying to fix Milly up with the man of her choice (Tom Everett Scott) while scuttling a budding romance with the one Milly’s picked for herself (Gabriel Macht). What say, ladies—those of you who are or were ever daughters—does this sound funny and endearing to you?
Hopkins and Nelson hit one false not-of-this-earth note after another. Daughters who discuss every detail of their sex lives with their mothers even while they’re engaging in it. A mother who has to move in with a daughter when she comes down with laryngitis, apparently so they can pass funny notes like “What does an orgasm feel like?” A dog that responds to an Internet porn site by humping the nearest foot stool. How about it, cyberporn addicts—is this a problem you have with your own pets?
The dog at least has the distinction of being one male character in Because I Said So who hasn’t been neutered. Macht, playing Mr. Sensitive Single-Parent Musician, oozes tremulous vulnerability, while Scott plays Mr. Upscale Architect with debonair charm—and just enough smugness to tell us we’re supposed to root for the guy with the guitar. They are joined by Stephen Collins as Macht’s comfily sweatered father (gotta have someone for Keaton, y’know; she’s the star, and we’re putting her through so much), and all three act like entrants in the 2007 Alan Alda Whine-Alike Sweepstakes.
I’ll say it again: Keaton is a superstar. But I think I’ll stick with The Godfather and Annie Hall to remind myself why.