Hollywood isn’t letting Diane Keaton age gracefully, but at least she’s doing it in style. Her wardrobe in Because I Said So, a slap-happy battle of the sexes (and generations), is her best since Annie Hall—a parade of wide belts and graphic prints paired with screen siren skirts and spindly heels that showcase the 61-year-old gamine’s slamming legs. It’s in better taste than her role as Daphne, a hyper divorcee and mother of three who’s channeled her bitterness and inorgasmic ability into getting her daughters married off as though this were Jane Austen’s England and not Venice Beach. With older daughters Maggie and Mae (Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo) safely betrothed, Daphne focuses her laser beams (shielded throughout by candy-tinted shades) on youngest progeny Millie (Mandy Moore). Millie looks more like an undergrad than a marriage liability, but the sweet-tempered caterer is, as her family puts it, “psychotic fly paper.” It doesn’t help that she starts off every ill-fated love connection by calling her mom and sisters, whose attempts to rev her engines go thusly: “He’s accomplished, considerate, and don’t forget you have one breast bigger than the other!”
Millie is so saturated in familial intimacy that there isn’t room on her voicemail for gentleman callers. And Daphne, deluded about her destructive influence, places a dating ad for her and screens Millie’s would-be suitors. After a rejection montage of bad teeth, bad English, and drag queen attire, Daphne puts her chips on cyber-perfect bachelor #17, Jason (Tom Everett Scott), who pretends to meet Millie coincidentally when he hires her to cater his superstar architecture firm’s anniversary party. Only a hunky guitarist named Johnny (Gabriel Macht, who had my corner of the multiplex swooning over his thrift store tweeds and crinkled smile) is also inching his way into Millie’s heart, which puts the girl in the flabbergasting position of having to choose between two dreamboats. A future of WASPy dinner dates and concrete lofts or being mommy to single dad Johnny’s maniac moptop Lionel. It’s a choice mom wants to curtail—as her attempts to undermine Johnny escalate, Keaton’s very presence inspires dread, like spotting a pigeon while watching The Birds.
Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson’s script allows some pretty speeches on maternal responsibility to the increasingly villainous Daphne. But for the most part, this Single White Mother is a loon, and the more unhinged director Michael Lehmann prods Keaton to be, the less funny she is. If there was a math equation that summed up her career, it would be Y+N(OT)=BxA/D (Yelping plus Nudity times Orgasm Talk equals Backlash multiplied by Awfulness divided by Disaster). She and the perennially laid back and lovely Moore often feel like they’re in different movies, and Moore’s romantic comedy is just dropping by mom’s asylum for a visit.
Lehmann is best known for directing Heathers and Hudson Hawk, leaving his reputation in limbo. Here, he squeaks out a few awwwwws and plenty of nervous chuckles, but the film’s rhythm is way off, in part due to an over-reliance on reaction shots from Daphne’s Labrador and doo-wop acapellas sung by the girls that he (and so many others) mistakes for a light-hearted way to express their emotions. Arrested Development alum Tony Hale’s bit part as a neurotic patient of Maggie’s is both hilarious and ill-fitting; only the latter is true for raunchy gags where the Lab gets turned on by porn and humps an ottoman. Keaton occasionally rises above her slapstick prison, as when she recognizes the destructive, self-loathing pattern we and the sisters have known since scene one. Still, there’s no excuse for stripping this icon down to yet another frigid biddy and having Korean masseuses gossip about her closed sphincter—no matter how fabulous she looks in her underwear.