Saturday, 24 March 2007

Because I Said So (2007)


It must be difficult to be Diane Keaton these days. Her film career simply hasn’t aged well at all. The actress, in her heyday, used to play highly intelligent and equally eccentric and flighty women with a taste for eye-catching androgynous fashion. She used to act in neurotic romantic comedies alongside Woody Allen, but this year, she’s appearing in a very conventional romantic comedy alongside Mandy Moore.

In Because I Said So, Keaton is the well-intentioned but overbearing mother Daphne, who in the process of raising her 3 daughters single-handedly, is unable to break the habit of micromanaging their adult lives, to the extent of suggesting what they should wear. That’s not quite a problem: girls grow up and get married, and mothers have to let go at that point. Unfortunately youngest daughter Milly, inheriting from her mother the lethal combination of single-minded devotion to career and underdeveloped dating skills, is a nebbish who holds some kind of track record for strings of failed romances with presumably men who take advantage of her naivete or good nature. In light of Milly’s most recent breakup (she was dumped, of course), it’s mother to the rescue as Daphne decides to secretly place a personal ad for her daughter on the internet, and hilarity ensues as the mother weeds out the undeserving suitors and pushes her choices on the unsuspecting daughter!

You’d probably notice how conventional the story is already – but in the hands of a brilliant writer: the meddlesome matchmaking mother, the scatterbrained daughter who goes to pieces in the presence of the mother, her courtship with the socially approved suitor and the poor (and not approved by mom) suitor, would serve as the ingredients of the modern romantic comedy descended from the sensibilities of Jane Austen.

However, the antics and anxieties of Daphne is far more funny than her daughter’s adventures in dating mummy’s approved and unapproved boyfriend choices – a testament to Keaton’s, but not the writers’ mastery of the romantic comedy genre. Despite the fact that the writers seem to be motivated by their extreme dislike of Keaton’s image (they make her wear one atrocious fashion disaster dress after another, as though this movie is the ugly version of The Devil Wears Prada, and cast her as an eccentric but unintelligent woman), her comic instinct and timing never fails to bring in the laughs.

In contrast, the comic wooing of Mandy Moore by Tom Everett Scott (the mum-approved choice) and Gabriel Macht (mum does not approve!) smacks of perfunctory, almost lazy writing. After decades of Austen and Hollywood, we know that Scott will turn out to be a well-bred cad, while “disreputable” Macht (playing a widower with an unpromising job) will pick up the pieces at the end – what’s strange about this movie is that the writers themselves seem uninterested to invest effort to flesh out the wooing or even attempt to make the courtship less predictable and more entertaining. Watching the abbreviated, compare and contrast style dating sequences made me wonder if we got the Cliff Notes version of a more-detailed script.

Because I Said So only rescues itself from being a weak romantic comedy through Diane Keaton’s comedy, and a half-way switch into a comic ‘tribute’ to process of motherhood and the madness of mother-daughter relationships. As such, I’d recommend this movie more for fans of Diane Keaton and quirky comedies rather than for moviegoers expecting romantic comedy action.

First published at incinemas on 29 March 2007

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