'Because I Said So': Sorry, That's Not a Good Enough Reason

Diane Keaton plays a mother who needs to grow up.
Diane Keaton plays a mother who needs to grow up. (By Suzanne Tenner -- Universal Pictures)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 2007

An open letter to the cast and crew of "The Holiday":

Dear Nancy, Cameron, Kate, Jude and Jack,

Long time, no hear-from!

Listen, I'll be honest. I think I owe you an apology. When your movie opened a couple of months ago, I was pretty harsh on it, making fun of the dumb writing and tushie-tingling running time, the overall lack of fizz and patently ersatz story line and characters.

In fact, for my money, "The Holiday" was probably the worst adult romantic comedy to hit theaters since . . . "A Good Year" one month earlier. But still. I'm afraid I'm forced to reconsider my careful calculations with the arrival of "Because I Said So."

Have you seen it? If so, you were probably as surprised as I was. The TV ads and trailers have presented Diane Keaton's character -- Daphne Wilder -- as a woman of a certain age trying to find a guy who feels good about her neck.

It turns out that her neck is just fine; it's what's on top that she and every person she comes into contact with should feel bad about. Movies about therapy are fun. Movies that need therapy are not.

Daphne, a longtime single mom who's approaching her 60-ish birthday, is what is known in self-help sections of bookstores as a "helicopter mom" (hint: They hover). Two of her grown daughters (Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo) have found husbands, but her youngest, Milly (Mandy Moore), is still single, the result of continually falling for the wrong guys. So mom decides to go online to find daughter a suitable mate, interviewing dozens of candidates (montage from Column A of the montage menu) and, when a winner emerges, confecting a meet-cute between her daughter and Mr. Right (Tom Everett Scott).

Not the worst premise in history for a dysfunctional family-rom-com, but in the hands of screenwriters Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson and director Michael Lehmann, what should be played for laughs winds up being squirmily unsettling. Daphne, who runs a business baking cakes that look like they were conceived by Wayne Thiebaud, is a pathologically toxic meddler, so enmeshed in every detail of her daughters' lives that she's less a mother than a stalker. When she and the girls casually talk about orgasms while shoe-shopping, it's not "Sex and the City" funny, it's emotional-incest creepy. And when mom and sisters phone Milly, who's in the midst of a sexual tryst, then put her on speakerphone so the whole family can share the moment, that's not cute, it's a boundary violation.

It all makes me realize there really wasn't any harm in watching Cameron traipse through the English countryside in a succession of fabulous coats. Here, Keaton is tricked out in progressively more ridiculous ensembles, the ever-present starched white shirt of her last controlling matriarch in "The Family Stone" replaced by big wide belts that cinch her waist to prove, presumably, that she can work around gallons of butter cream and still stay thin. (Yet another reason to find her irritating.)

But most disheartening is her hysterically pitched portrayal of the clueless Daphne, hooting, screeching and pratfalling her way through a weirdly mannered performance. This is Diane Keaton, people. "Manhattan." "Annie Hall." "The Godfather." "Looking for Mr. Goodbar." Acting like a whooping crane on Ritalin and getting hit in the face with a bar mitzvah cake. There oughta be a law.

Anyhoo, on dog-reaction-shots alone, "Because I Said So" leaves you "Holiday" guys in the dust as far as gratuitous cuteness is concerned; and when it comes to the plot twist involving I-didn't-know-you-had-kids, I'll take Jude's adorable moppets over this movie's Little Mr. Needs a Timeout (played by the very cute and blameless Ty Panitz) any day.

What's more, I'd much rather be in the company of your mentally healthy characters than the passive-aggressive, undermining, neurotically projecting head cases of "Because I Said So," a movie that doesn't belong in theaters as much as a special edition of the Ask Amy column.

Well, I'm really glad I got this off my chest and I hope there are no hard feelings. To be formal about it, you are hereby no longer the worst adult romantic comedy of the sea-- wait, we're in a different season! You guys were Christmas-Hanukkah, and "Because I Said So" is post-New Year's, pre-Valentine's Day!

Never mind, "Holiday." And scoot over.



Because I Said So (102 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, adult themes and partial nudity.

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