Sunday, February 25, 2007

Because I Said So / * (PG-13)

Daphne Wilder: Diane Keaton
Milly: Mandy Moore
Johnny: Gabriel Macht
Jason: Tom Everett Scott
Maggie: Lauren Graham
Mae: Piper Perabo
Joe: Stephen Collins

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Michael Lehmann. Written by Karen Leigh Hopkins & Jessie Nelson. Running time: 102 min. Rated PG-13 (for sexual content including dialogue, some mature thematic elements, and partial nudity).

Why should you avoid the new romantic comedy starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore? That’s right… because I said so. Get it? Of course you do. But even that bad joke is better than the lame gags and characters that fill “Because I Said So.” This is a travesty of cinema that every self respecting filmgoer should steer clear of; it could easily drive any sane person to contemplate homicide.

The story’s premise revolves around the relationship between Daphne Wilder (Keaton, “The Family Stone”) and her three daughters. She raised them alone and is one of those controlling mothers. While Daphne successfully sees her eldest two daughters into marriage, her youngest, Milly (Moore, “American Dreamz”), seems destined to repeat a cycle of no good boyfriends into spinsterhood.

Daphne devises a scheme that would allow her to have a hand in choosing Milly’s next boyfriend, and hopefully, future spouse. She places an ad through an online dating service and interviews the candidates herself. We then get a version of that obligatory blind dating scene found in romances since the dawn of time, where Daphne meets all the socially retarded losers who answer her ad. The band of idiots that parade across the screen in this out-of-touch comedy are not only unacceptable, but seem to be aliens from another planet. They’ve elevated this unoriginal cinematic joke to such an extreme that it goes beyond humorous and actually becomes offensive.

Daphne chooses Jason (Tom Everett Scott, “That Thing You Do!”), who obviously is playing her emotions like a harp, although his motivations are never explained. Maybe successful and attractive architects in California really do have a tough time finding a wife. As the age-old romantic comedy formula dictates, she rejects Johnny (Gabriel Macht, “The Good Shepard”), the obviously perfect candidate who doesn’t actually answer the ad but notices Daphne’s plight and takes an interest in this crazy mother trying to set up her daughter. Johnny is a musician and therefore a poor choice for someone looking for stability and purity. Macht has one of the script’s few funny lines when he thanks Daphne for stereotyping him.

Johnny tracks Milly down anyway and, inexplicably, Milly begins dating both men. This action cannot be justified by a character we’re supposed to sympathize with; therefore, it’s simply glossed over. Why Johnny doesn’t run from this psychologically challenged family to begin with is another of the film’s unsolved mysteries.

The filmmakers, who I’m not even going to bother to mention by name here (they should thank me), fail to wring comedy out of the fact that both the mother and daughter seem to unable to perform even the most basic of life’s functions. Milly has trouble just crossing the street and the unnatural static attraction balloons seem to have for her butt creates one of the most oddly unfunny Meet Cutes in film history. Daphne is a baker who can’t seem to carry a cake anywhere without somehow placing her face in it, and she seems to be carrying one in every other scene. It makes you wonder how she ever built a career as a top notch baker.

I think that the relationship between the mother and three daughters is also supposed to be a source of humor. The daughters talk about sex incessantly in front of their mother, mostly through conference calls on cell phones. There seems to be some obsession with modern technology on the filmmakers’ part here and the way in which the mother participates but doesn’t really get how to utilize the modern devices. Yet she is able to function with technology just fine if the scene doesn’t require a joke at her expense.

I would have liked to have seen more of the daughters Maggie and Mae, played by Lauren Graham (WB’s “Gilmore Girls”) and Piper Perabo (“Coyote Ugly”). They, along with Johnny, seem to be the only sane people here. Graham is a psychiatrist who has a couple of funny scenes with a patient who only wants to be noticed. Perabo can at best be described as the other sister, since she has so little screen time and only seems to exist to be another body to participate in sex conversations in her mother’s presence.

“Because I Said So” is a cinematic mess. It may once have resembled a romantic comedy with the potential to look at the unique relationship shared by mothers and daughters in matters involving love. What it’s become is a perfect example of how comedic gags are not funny simply because they exist. Comedy needs characters that function in some sort of sustainable reality and requires choices that are not made merely for their comedic impact, but attempt to fulfill some actual meaning. It is also an example of how an eccentric actor like Diane Keaton cannot merely coast by on those eccentricities; she must have some basis in reality for her quirks to have any sort of effect on an audience. Perhaps the filmmakers should go back to film school to learn about these things. Why? Don’t even make me say it.

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