This year's Oscar hype season has had the pleasant side effect of highlighting the work of several excellent actresses of "a certain age"— Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Meryl Streep to name a few. Diane Keaton could also be mentioned in this group of experienced actresses who have recently managed the feat of starring in Hollywood movies with substantial roles for older women.
I loved Keaton's verve in Something's Gotta Give, and I even liked her performance as a dying matriarch in the widely (and I think unfairly) panned The Family Stone. So there was a certain anticipation that her presence in the role of an overbearing mom to three adult daughters in Because I Said So meant the movie would be the best sort of chick flick—wise, witty, and warm. Alas.
In this age of "helicopter parents," the movie's premise has great potential. Keaton stars as Daphne, the eccentric mom—and single parent—to Maggie (Lauren Graham), Mae (Piper Perabo), and Milly (Mandy Moore). The two older daughters are paired off, but the youngest, Milly, seems to be posing a problem. She's not married (gasp!). It's not for lack of trying. Milly dates, but her choice in men isn't to her mother's liking. Fearful that her daughter will ruin her life by falling for the wrong man, Daphne decides to take matters into her own hands.
Daphne places a personal ad and sets about screening candidates for Milly—without her daughter's knowledge, of course. Two contenders emerge and romantic mayhem ensues, but never are you left wondering how things will work out in the end. The movie plays out like a freshman film school project with a big budget; it's very pretty to look at and every plot twist (or rather: slight curve) is telegraphed with painful precision.
Much of the movie verges on slapstick comedy—physically and emotionally—with an overwrought performance from Keaton and girlish turn from Moore that leaves her cute-as-a-button visage is a perpetual state of smiling bewilderment. Have you ever noticed that when someone lip-synchs a song, they exaggerate their behavior? By the end of the movie, I had the feeling as though these two actresses had lip-synched through the entire script.
Far more absurd than the acting and contrived scenarios is the muddled thinking that has Daphne, and her daughters to a lesser extent, undone at the thought of spending life as a single person. In the same conversation they verbally bandy about a popular symbol of women's liberation (sexual fulfillment, for example) and moon over the fact that Milly might just have a miserable life if she doesn't find a good man. All of these women are smart, have loving families, fulfilling work, and plenty of money. If singleness isn't okay for these women, for whom is it okay? (Read: no one.) I don't necessarily demand a lot of intellectual rigor from my romantic comedies, but the conflation of progressive and arguably conservative values throughout the movie (not just as it relates to marriage, but also to minorities) makes for an inconsistent and frustrating narrative.
And don't even get me started on the foundational premise that something is wrong with Milly to need help from her mom and sisters. Suffice it to say, only in Hollywood are the endearing quirks of someone who is beautiful and successful (she owns her own catering company no less) seen as a dating liability.
I do think that Because I Said So is an interesting example of how older women are increasingly depicted as being sexy in film. The camera frequently frames Keaton's body in direct relation to her daughter's bodies (the comparison is not unflattering) and her sex life is as much at issue as Milly's. There is certainly more to be said about this trend than this review would allow. But upon initial reflection I'm tempted to say that the broad effect of this treatment is a sort of continued dismissal of womanhood by continuing to frame its concerns within the context of a woman's attractiveness to men for longer and longer stretches of her life.
Perhaps the only positive thing that can be said about this movie is that it does try to get at the overwhelming love mothers have for their children. Unfortunately, Because I Said So doesn't make much of a coherent point on the matter.
If all of this doesn't convince you this movie is worth a pass, then just take my word on it. Why? You guessed it: Because I said so. So there.Discussion starters
- What do you think of Daphne's contention that one wrong choice can ruin your life? Do you agree? Do you think Daphne is justified in holding this opinion?
- Would you be as apt to talk in detail about your romantic life with your mother the way that the daughters do in this movie? Why or why not?
- Do you think Milly made the right choice between her suitors? Would you have chosen differently? Why or why not?
- Why does Daphne seem so discontent with her own life? Are there societal forces or expectations at play? What about personal hopes?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Because I Said So is rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, some mature thematic material and partial nudity. The main cause for concern is the film's depiction of sex—including sex outside of marriage. But more frustrating is the way sex is used as an all-purpose punch line—a dog humping a piece of furniture, a computer that stalls on a porn site, an uptight mother who everyone agrees just needs to hop in the sack. It's true that the conversations about sex are more explicit than the actual sex scenes in this movie (we see the women in their bras and panties in a locker room, Milly is shown rolling around in bed under covers, Daphne is always clothed but a couple of times splayed out with her beau), but the way the topic is treated lends itself to absurd and crude attempts at humor.
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from Film Forum, 02/08/07
For over 30 years, Diane Keaton has captured the spirit of her times like few other actresses. After winning an Oscar for navigating the neurotic ups and downs of urban romance in the 1970s film Annie Hall, she went on to chart the complications of motherhood for yuppie business women in the 1980s film Baby Boom, the effects of divorce on middle-aged women in the 1990s film The First Wives Club, and the question of whether women of a certain age can still attract the opposite sex in this decade's Something's Gotta Give.
Her newest film, however, doesn't seem likely to join those ranks. In Because I Said So—directed by Michael Lehmann, whose last feature film, 40 Days and 40 Nights, was predicated on the notion that no healthy single man could willingly abstain from sex for a few weeks—Keaton plays a mother who has three daughters, one of whom (played by Mandy Moore) is unmarried, a status that the overbearing mother is determined to "fix."
Lisa Ann Cockrel (Christianity Today Movies) is one of several critics who are frustrated by the film's regressive, "muddled" thinking: "I don't necessarily demand a lot of intellectual rigor from my romantic comedies, but the conflation of progressive and arguably conservative values throughout the movie (not just as it relates to marriage, but also to minorities) makes for an inconsistent and frustrating narrative. … I do think that Because I Said So is an interesting example of how older women are increasingly depicted as being sexy in film. … But upon initial reflection I'm tempted to say that the broad effect of this treatment is a sort of continued dismissal of womanhood by continuing to frame its concerns within the context of a woman's attractiveness to men for longer and longer stretches of her life."
Christa Banister (Crosswalk) says the movie is "so bad that it actually makes me wonder just how horrible the scripts were that [Keaton] turned down in favor of this one." She is also disappointed that Moore, "who has claimed to be a church-goer in the past," plays a woman who sleeps with both of the men who are competing for her affections. "Instead of sweet and somewhat innocent like the pop songs she's sung in the past, she's a spoiled, promiscuous girl with a potty mouth, which is such a waste of her talent that still manages to shine through in such an insignificant movie as this."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) admits that he doesn't "get" chick flicks at the best of times, but even so, he writes, "in this dysfunctional mother-daughter tale, sex trumps all—character development, storytelling and morality. That's neither a male nor a female observation. And it has nothing to do with whether I love or hate big-budget tearjerkers. With sexual ethics as loose as a pair of post-diet pants, Because I Said So slickly creates a sordid 'girls' night out' atmosphere by dealing with orgasms, penises, one-night-stands and everything in between with a stubbornly frank (and relativistically postmodern) attitude. Would I be OK with all of that if I was 'more sensitive' and cried a little easier? Hardly."
Michael Brunk (Past the Popcorn) says the movie "is a fairly formulaic light romantic comedy. It really doesn't break any new ground. There is plenty of talent on tap here, including Diane Keaton as Daphne and Mandy Moore as Milly, but they're not given much to work with. … The real lesson here is that no matter how much you love your kids, you simply can't live their lives for them."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says the film is "mediocre and unfunny" and calls it an "appalling chick flick" that "pushes the contemporary acceptance of premarital sex to new lows, as the permissive Keaton character and her three daughters (Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo are the others) blithely discuss their sexual experiences at every opportunity."
Mainstream critics say don't see this movie.