Because I Said So

I took a hiatus in January and didn’t see any new films. Returning to the trenches now, I feel like a man waking up after being in a coma for 10 years. Did movies get really, really bad while I was gone?

The source of my alarm is “Because I Said So,” an utterly rancid comedy from the writers of (urp) “Stepmom” and the director of (blech) “Hudson Hawk” and “My Giant.” (Michael Lehmann’s directorial debut was the dark-comedy classic “Heathers.” He has done nothing productive for society since then.) The film contains no laughs, no purpose, and no entertainment. What’s more, it forces movie-lovers to cringe at the sight of classy legend Diane Keaton behaving in a most un-classy, un-legendlike manner. This movie is an affront to decency.

It is the story of an overbearing mother named Daphne (Keaton) who has three grown daughters played by Mandy Moore, Lauren Graham, and Piper Perabo, though Perabo serves no purpose in the film whatsoever and might as well have been omitted. The youngest, Milly (Moore), has been unlucky in love and is tired of her mother’s incessant meddling and fixing-up and passive-aggressive comments. Recognizing this, Mom does the only sensible thing: She posts a personals ad on the Internet requesting potential suitors to meet with her so she can find the perfect one for her daughter.

The respondents are mostly losers, of course, paraded before us in a montage of broad sight gags and superficial stereotypes. Finally Daphne finds Mr. Right, a handsome architect named Jason (Tom Everett Scott). The auditions are being held in a hotel bar, though, and one of the lounge musicians, Johnny (Gabriel Macht), submits himself for approval, too. Daphne does not approve. He’s a guitarist, for crying out loud, and he has a tattoo.

As fate and screenplay contrivances would have it, Milly meets BOTH men, unaware that her mother has already pre-screened them (and, in Johnny’s case, issued a rejection). Before you know it, she’s dating both of them, each unaware of the other’s place in her life, and Milly still unaware that her mother had a hand in this.

When I say “before you know it,” I mean that literally. There was a point in the film where I honestly, truly thought the projectionist had skipped a reel. All of a sudden Milly and Johnny were kissing and speaking of their relationship as though it had been going on for some time — when the last time we saw them, three scenes earlier, it had only been their first date. But nope, no reels were skipped. The movie just doesn’t know how to tell a story.

Not that there’s much story to tell. On paper, I suspect there were two “arcs” for the film: Daphne must learn to relax and quit micromanaging her daughter’s life, and Milly must choose between her two boyfriends. Both of these things happen, but the events leading to them are random and unconvincing. No one behaves like this in real life. No one says these things, no one does these things, no one thinks these things. These characters are entirely unrelated to reality.

Case in point: When Daphne accidentally dials up some loud porn on her computer, she instantly becomes a klutzy stumblebum. It’s as if her hands have turned into flippers. She can’t turn it off, she can’t close the browser, she can’t turn down the sound. All she can do is flail her arms — Keaton does a good deal of flailing in this movie — and make spazzy noises. If you put 1,000,000 people in that situation, all 1,000,000 of them would do something other than what Daphne does.

There’s another series of scenes in which Daphne has laryngitis and must communicate by scribbling notes. Now, I’m not complaining about the temporary respite from her shrill histrionics; indeed, it would be nice if EVERYONE in the movie shut up for a while. But my question is: Why does she have laryngitis? Being unable to speak for a few scenes doesn’t factor into the plot, doesn’t teach her character anything, doesn’t provide the setting for any good jokes. It’s completely random. The only logical explanation would be if Keaton actually had laryngitis and they wrote it into the script to prevent production delays.

Mandy Moore could turn out to be the most talented of that crop of teen queens she used to be lumped in with (Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Hilary Duff, etc.) She’s certainly chosen some of the more interesting projects lately, with last year’s “American Dreamz” and her excellent guest stint on TV’s “Scrubs.” “Because I Said So” is a step backward, and I hope it’s temporary.

Diane Keaton, meanwhile… What happened? Look at the great films she was in: The “Godfather” series, “Reds,” several Woody Allen pictures — even “Father of the Bride” and “The First Wives Club” were respectable, glossy comedies. Now she’s in farcical garbage like this, having cakes smashed in her face, discussing her underwear choices with her daughters, doing one humiliating thing after another, all in the service of a screenplay that is neither witty nor intelligent.

D (1 hr., 41 min.; PG-13, some sexual dialogue, some naughty humor.)