Tacky and terminally bland, Because I Said So sets up one basic joke — the interfering mother — and runs it into the ground. Longtime single mother Daphne (Diane Keaton) is determined to marry off her three daughters, hoping they will avoid her own loneliness. The opening scenes show her ostensible success with Maggie (Lauren Graham) and Mae (Piper Perabo), as they appear with cakes, white dresses, and grooms. (And we won’t even start considering what it means that a mother would name her first two daughters after a Rod Stewart song.) But she’s not done yet. Her youngest girl, poor Milly (Mandy Moore), can’t find the right guy. So mom is fixated on making that happen.
Because I Said So asserts that Milly’s “failure” (this assumption would be her mother’s, which the movie assumes because it’s such a painfully conventional romantic comedy) is brought on by Daphne’s lifelong tyranny. She makes Milly feel self-conscious, worrying out loud about her outfits, mannerisms, and snorty laugh when she gets nervous (which is every time her mother sends her forth to meet a new man). More than once, she’s accompanied by covers of “Days Like This” (including Van Morrison’s) and too often, she’s caught up in some embarrassing situation, as when a big red balloon sticks to her bottom during a fit of static electricity or when a boyfriend calls to break up with her just before she’s supposed to indulge in a massage alongside her mom and sisters: big tears and too many questions ensue.
But while Milly looks disheveled and Daphne thinks she’s got it all together (her fondness for pert big-belted outfits and polka-dots is ostensibly a sign of her secure ego), the film makes clear that they are very much alike. Check the early, heavy-handed montage that shows them in parallel dinnertime moments: they’re both caterers with special affection for cakes, both eat pasta and drink red wine alone, and both believe it’s their own fault for being unmarried. Yet, Milly is not about to consider Daphne’s status as related to her own, whether a model to emulate or reject. Instead, she’s caught in a limbo, absorbing her mother’s incessant judgments even as she knows Daphne’s irrational and unfair. As far as you can see, Milly’s a pleasant, not particularly bright young woman, an apt representative of her genre and so, deserving of the usual happy ending, a wedding. And still, her mother calls her “psychotic flypaper,” for attracting the “wrong” men.
Daphne’s scheme to end Milly’s ordeal is appropriately horrific, that is, it is designed to show her meddling as excessive and set up for the big showdown. After some hokey “I can’t manage my own computer” moments (wherein she comes onto a porn site and can’t shut it off, embarrassing herself during her call to the helpline and inspiring her dog to hump a stool), Daphne uses a dating site to arrange a series of meetings with young men. Here again the movie resorts to an awkward montage: the loser “dates” range from guys wearing tattoos, a dress, or a turban (this last seems an especially unfunny marker of unsuitability) to guys who describe their medical conditions or gleefully declare their “woodies.”
The ideal date shows up eventually, of course, at least Daphne’s mind. He’s architect Jason (Tom Everett Scott), who appears to be controlling and possessive (“I knew I had you the day I met you,” he informs Milly during one totally uninteresting crisis). Much like Daphne, Jason is given to noting how impressive, influential, and right he is. Just as Daphne sets up the date for Milly, however, another suitor appears, the lounge guitarist and music teacher Johnny (Gabriel Macht). It’s easy to see which man Milly prefers — especially when Johnny reveals he has a colorful tattoo on his hand and that he is a doting single father of a cute, if obnoxious, little boy.
But still, she has to grind through repeated scenes where she goes out with Jason, argues with Daphne, and discusses all dates and anxieties with her sisters (these formulaic split screen phone calls pass for the sisters’ character “development,” especially as they reveal that Maggie is a psychologist, working out her own mom issues as she observes familial dysfunction in her patients). Milly’s similarity to her mother pretty much breaks wide open when, caught in a lie, she starts parsing possibilities: “Where is the truth?” she asks, momentarily spinning off into the ether of egotism and relative morality that allows Daphne to treat her daughters as extensions of herself.
Mother and daughters share the sorts of moments that only occur in generic movie comedies: they spend time in a locker room showing their bottoms and discussing the “awful foreshortening aspect of the thong,” all reach for their cell phones at the same time, sing as a group for husbands and boyfriends, argue clumsily over what’s “best” for Milly (when one sister observes that Daphne is “being a helicopter,” she feels compelled to translate, apparently for us: “You’re hovering”). Their afternoon at a spa leaves them in the hands of Asian masseuses, whose subtitled commentary underlines but does not make funny the white ladies’ bad behavior: “This old bag needs to loosen up,” says the woman working on Daphne, proceeding to pound her while asserting, “She needs a stiff one.”
Indeed, even Maggie, being the professional in such matters, comes to this conclusion, that mom is fussing over Milly because she needs her own boyfriend. Luckily, he will show up in the form of Joe (Stephen Collins), Johnny’s infinitely patient dad, whose sole reason for being appears to be babysitting the hyperactive child. Within minutes of meeting Daphne, Joe is smitten, though the only reason the movie provides for this reaction is that they’re sitting on a cozy sofa together watching Daphne’s favorite actor, Gary Cooper. Their embrace is interrupted by the arrival of Milly and Johnny, appropriately bemused.
This seems a comfortable enough ending point, but the movie can’t stop itself, pushing on for another long-seeming half hour’s worth of inane mishaps and misunderstandings. Yet another blunder by director Michael Lehmann (whose Heathers now seems very long ago, in an especially faraway galaxy), Because I Said So includes so many clichés that it’s hard to keep count. In lieu of plot, it’s cluttered with bad driving scenes, dog reaction shots, falling-splat-with-cakes scenes, and watching old movies scenes. This last is especially egregious and self-defeating, as the Gary Cooper movies Daphne names or watches — Love in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls Mr. Deeds Goes to Town — make the one she’s in seem that much worse by comparison.