It is very hard to criticize Diane Keaton. One becomes torn as she is perhaps one of the most iconic female performers of her generation, and certainly one of the most talented. Keaton has sustained a cinematic career for more than 40 years, racking up awards and box office. She is possessed of a grand familiarity and fierce skill for both comedy and drama, and has found what is one of the nicest balances between art and commerce: the actress turned Nancy Meyers’ vapid Something’s Gotta Give into an Oscar-nominated mid-life triumph and became a cosmetics spokeswoman at an age where most women in Hollywood are getting facelifts and turning into caricatures of their former selves.
Unfortunately, Keaton is inclined to also make disastrous missteps, which I discovered with a viewing of Because I Said So, two long hours that I will sadly never get back. This is an unfortunate, glossy film that was quickly and painlessly released during what most consider to be the biggest dumping ground of the year (early February — not a good sign). You want to be on Keaton’s side. After all, she was Annie Hall. With this latest film, though, she takes a giant step backwards, even if the film’s intentions are non-threatening.
Billed as an “irresistibly hilarious comedy”, Because I Said So, in reality, is just a bland middle-aged star vehicle for Keaton’s kooky off-screen persona. She plays Daphne (ooh! What an offbeat name!), an overbearing (almost to the point of being smothering) cake-decorating baroness who is hell-bent on seeing her youngest daughter Milly (the colorless Mandy Moore — trying really hard) happy and married. Keaton spends much of the film braying and screeching the titular saying to her kids, alienating the audience with stereotype-filled behavior, and acting obnoxious. The scenes where she has no clue how to turn off the porn on her computer as the family dogs relentlessly humps an ottoman are embarrassing to watch, and must have been equally humiliating for the actress to play.
Director Michael Lehmann (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, and the glorious Heathers) lets down his cast and his viewers and lets the main character devolve into a messy stereotype; which is a crime when you are handed a natural treasure like Keaton. Everything is very broad in this film. The comedy is big. The milieu is all very low-brow and obvious. The movie is built around the concept that Daphne loves her daughters too much (the women even stand around joking in their underwear at one point — which I think was meant to clue us in to their family’s “closeness”). Daphne loves Milly so much that she decides to place a personal ad for her and begins interviewing potential marriage material. This is the film’s sole premise, and it is too thin to sustain a viewer through two entire hours.
There are no engaging characters, there is no engaging story. It is a struggle to sit through something as meaningless as Because I Said So. Which brings me back to why it is hard to have to be the one calling Keaton out on her cinematic mischief. On one hand, the actress should be commended for attempting such mainstream, crowd-pleasing movies. There are very few women of her stature who can pull this sort of film appearance off. Meryl Streep did something very similar (and much more successfully) with The Devil Wears Prada last year, which made her a bankable force and showcased her comedic skills. I think this must have been what Keaton had in mind when choosing this. Also to be lauded is her choice to work with three younger actresses, generously handing some of the choice lines and funny moments over to the next generation: Moore, Lauren Graham (as eldest daughter Maggie), and Piper Perabo (barely there as middle daughter Mae) all seem a little too awe-struck when Keaton is in the frame.
On the other hand, Keaton is known for being much more daring and original than this sort of vehicle gives her room to be. Sure, we are treated to a “Diane Keaton Fashion Show”, which is something that the public has really come to expect from the performer since her breakout in Woody Allen’s late ’70s films like Annie Hall and Manhattan. Personal style unfortunately does not make a whole character. It would be really nice to see Keaton return to the electricity she displayed in something like 1982’s powerhouse Shoot the Moon. She has the ability to be so much more than what people expect of her. This is why it is so disappointing to see an icon of American cinema take such a complete nosedive into stinking garbage like this.
Even though she has been working in almost exclusively in the mainstream for the last couple of years, Keaton has still managed to find engaging characters to play. In the woeful The Family Stone, she made her matriarch into something contemporary and surprising, which is a Keaton trademark at this point (although the filmmakers here decide to use the exact same photo of a young Keaton holding a baby as Stone used! How in the hell did this happen?!). So when considering her knack for imbuing her characters with the right amount of her own personality plus a distinctive bit of modern whimsy, her work as Daphne in Because I Said So is regrettably going to be remembered as a career lowlight.
Keaton has fallen into the trap of playing the daffy, comically overbearing mother one too many times now, a hole that she can hopefully drag herself out of. What was no doubt intended to be a whimsical confection of a film turns into a cheap, slapstick-filled sing-a-long that does nothing except make a legend look like a fool. It absolutely kills me to have to disparage a film (or filmmakers) who are brave enough to give a woman over 50 a lead in a commercial film designed to make money, supported by three other women, but this is really just no good, on any level.