In a year when Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep are all being feted for playing powerful women 'of a certain age,' it's especially disappointing to watch Diane Keaton flail around in Because I Said So, Michael Lehmann's romantic comedy about a mother who won't let her kids grow up. Keaton was so outrageously appealing in Something's Gotta Give that it was almost like seeing her for the first time. But here she is again, playing the same role, only without the charm.
Keaton's Daphne Wilder is supposed to be a lovable noodge, a mother hen who pecks away at her chicks until they scream for mercy. And the actress throws everything she's got at the role, including a series of outfits ' Project Runway does '50s sock-hop ' that only she could get away with. But Daphne isn't a lovable noodge. She's a stage mother from hell, going so far as to audition prospective mates for her youngest daughter, Milly (Mandy Moore).
The field soon gets narrowed to two, a slightly snobby architect played by Tom Everett Scott and a slightly sloppy musician played by Gabriel Macht. And I'll give you three guesses who we're supposed to pull for. Daphne pulls for the architect, a plot thread that leads to all sorts of...well, actually, it doesn't lead much of anywhere. But there are many, many scenes of Daphne telling Milly what to say, what to wear, how to behave and, in general, treating her like a 4-year-old.
Milly handles this onslaught with aplomb, for the most part. And so does Moore, who largely avoids the Annie Hall shtick the script seems to call for. Because I Said So is crawling with cutesy bits: kids who cuss, dogs who hump furniture, wedding cakes that keep winding up splattered all over somebody's face. Oh, and some pretty frank sex talk. If you don't relish hearing an uncircumcised penis described as 'a hot dog in a bun,' you may want to hold the mustard.
Then again, Moore does a nice job of describing what an orgasm feels like ' an extended aria, with lots of high notes, that can't help but remind us of the time Meg Ryan faked one in When Harry Met Sally. Daphne, it seems, has never had one, and her meddling in her daughters' affairs can be interpreted as her desperate attempt to make sure they do. Of course, life begins at 60, an age Daphne is fast approaching. Needless to say, she meets someone (Stephen Collins). Needless to say, he hits the spot. And needless to say, it makes her a lot less uptight.
I'm not exactly this movie's target audience, and I should point out that the crowd I saw it with, which included many women of a certain age, seemed to be having the time of its life, laughing at all the appropriate places. Me, I think I'll stick with Terms of Endearment, a movie that, in my opinion, did a much better job of capturing the way a mother can smother her daughter with affection. Everything about Because I Said So, from its title on down, is more blunt, less endearing.