Because I Said So isn't a movie, as such; it's a poster, a trailer, a pitch, a marketing plan. A movie has a script; Because I Said So doesn't have one of those. Instead, it's got a collection of bland situations, silly dialogue and unnecessary complications. I don't think anyone actually wrote Because I Said So; I think that some Hollywood artificial intelligence think-tank instead fed DVD box sets of The Gilmore Girls and Sex and the City into a computer, along with Pottery Barn catalogs for roughage, and this movie -- where the character's wardrobes are given more thought than their motivations, and where the look and accoutrements of their apartments are better-defined than their back stories and desires -- is what came out the other end.
Daphne (Diane Keaton) is a successful businesswoman who's raised three daughters -- oldest Maggie (Lauren Graham), middle daughter Mae (Piper Perabo) and youngest Milly (Mandy Moore). Maggie and Mae are married; Milly's romantic life is a dreadful roller-coaster of ups and downs, giddy possibilities and glum dumpings. Daphne does what any person in a cliché romantic comedy would do -- namely, posting an online personal ad so that she can interview candidates to be involved with her daughter and then help them meet Milly in carefully-engineered 'coincidences' so that Milly will be unaware her mom is playing both Cupid and Cyrano.
Daphne only approves of one young man from her process -- a professional, well-groomed architect, Jason (Tom Everett Scott). Of course, Johnny (Gabriel Macht), a musician at the bar where Daphne is conducting interviews meets and chats with Daphne, learns her plan, is stung by Daphne's implicit dismissal of his hipster tattoos and gathers enough information so that he can 'accidentally' meet Milly. ... Milly is now being lied to by three people; it's good that two of them are cute, right?
Directed by Michael Lehmann (who, once upon a time, directed Heathers and Hudson Hawk -- neither of which were perfect, but at least felt like they were made by human beings -- and now churns out piffle like this), Because I Said So isn't just tired and dull; it's also inept. Entire scenes are left by the wayside or turned into montage sequences; note that when Keaton and Scott meet, he orders lunch ... and then, two minutes later, gets up to go. (You can, in fact, see a used dish on the table as Scott gets up to go, but the fact we don't see either of the two of them eating is a little confusing.) Later, an entire conversation between Milly and Daphne (once Daphne's aware of her mom's meddling ways) is relegated to a few quick shots in a montage. It made me wonder if there was, in fact, a longer cut of Because I Said So that was trimmed in order to have a faster running time; I'm not suggesting that a longer cut would have been better, but it would at least have felt like it was made by human beings.
Keaton and Moore are both charming performers, but Because I Said So doesn't know what to do with them -- instead relying on having them flail and seem embarrassed. We're expected to believe, for example, that when Keaton's computer is stuck on the home page of an adult sex website and her machine is issuing moans and groans while other people call she has no clue about how to turn off her powered speakers. Or that Moore, attacked by static cling, would whip her slip off from under her dress in the middle of the street. Or that there's a family tradition that when mom gets sick, she stays with one of her kids -- because, clearly, Keaton is incapable of taking care of herself -- so that she and Moore can stay up late, talk about sex and bond over Gary Cooper films.
Even the complications to Because I Said So's plot are fairly assembly-line. Johnny and Jason pursue Milly; Milly learns of Daphne's deception; Johnny's dad turns out to be the cute, rumpled Stephen Collins and he and Keaton hit it off; what will be done? All of this takes place in one of those parallel-universe versions of Los Angeles you only see in movies -- where every apartment is four times as large as it should be for the character's income, and there are no people of color aside from sassy Korean masseuses and wacky Indian guys who can be judged on sight as completely unsuitable for dating your daughter.
And no, I'm not expecting reality or social intelligence from Because I Said So; I think that I can expect a reasonable level of craft and care, and we don't get that. Keaton's fussbudget, harried persona (as developed in films like Something's Gotta Give and The Family Stone) has now become a cage, and the family tradition of singing seems like a tacked-on-afterthought to give Moore a chance to strut her stuff -- even though Moore's been fine, or more than fine, in non-singing roles before when she's actually given a character and a motivation instead of frilly dresses and quirks.
Every parent wants their child to be happy; every parent is probably slightly clueless about what, exactly, that would mean. Daphne wants Milly to be happy in the worst way possible -- which is, of course, exactly how it happens. Confrontations, squabbles and more -- and at no point does Moore say "You know what, mom? My happiness isn't defined by being with a man!" If she had, I'm sure the Romantic Comedy police would have her tranquilized and taken away for forced re-education; movies like Because I Said So work from the faintly condescending premise that 'uninvolved' must automatically equal 'unhappy.' Milly is 22 and unmarried?
Quick, get her hitched before she turns into an old crone in three year's time! Why not make a romantic comedy about a mother who doesn't want her 22-year old to get married just yet, or have the hunky older man Keaton falls for be the father of the less-suitable boy, so we at least have some awkward dinner party scenes? Or have Keaton, Graham and Perabo compete to find a suitor for Moore, and have their clashing ideas of her play out through their selections? Because I Said So is one of those movies destined to be forgotten in a matter of days after it's release, made to fill three-in-the-morning timeslots on HBO and the dreary parts of trans-oceanic plane trips with glossy, pretty nothingness.