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As a longtime fan of Diane Keaton, it’s always disheartening to see her in roles that seem inadequate for the Oscar-winning, lean and brainy hipster icon of the 1970s (“Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Interiors,” to name just a few). But her most recent foray into mainstream rom-com is just plain painful.

Titled “Because I Said So,” the film is a blend of the excruciating and exasperating, whose idea of a comedic high point is having Keaton accidentally access a porn site on her home computer with the sound going full blast, and panic while her dog gleefully humps the couch. If there were such a thing as a Cinema Supreme Court, scenes like this would surely be sentenced 20-to-life in a maximum-security prison.

The director is Michael Lehmann, whose debut 1989 work “Heathers” was a darkly observed high-school satire. It seems he spent the past two decades ridding himself of most of the cynicism and edge that made “Heathers” so compelling. “Because I Said So” is a train-wreck of slapstick, sexual innuendo and Diane Keaton screaming out in sexual ecstasy — or just screaming.

Because I Said So
Rating
Director Michael Lehmann
Run Time 102 minutes
Language English
Opens Opens Sept. 1, 2007

She plays Daphne, who runs a cake shop in Los Angeles while maintaining an unnaturally close relationship with her three daughters. After her two elder girls get married, she’s worried that her youngest, Milly (Mandy Moore), a single-gal caterer who has her own business, will end up like her: never straying from the food career track and losing out on love.

So she does what any intelligent, sensible mother would do in her place — she posts an ad on the Net and screens a bevy of eligible candidates on Milly’s behalf. Secretly, of course. And even if Milly finds out, Daphne is sure that her baby girl will “thank me in the end.” Why? Because she says so, of course.

In Daphne’s splendid bungalow house, there’s a black and white photo of herself (Diane Keaton taken maybe 30 years ago). The film returns to this framed photo often, maybe to stress how lovely Keaton was back then, and how lovely she is still. Point taken (and appreciated, because having reached her 60s Keaton remains swat-me attractive). But you can’t help thinking that if a twentysomething Diane Keaton was offered a role in “Because I Said So,” she would have snorted with derisive laughter and chucked the whole thing out the window.

None of the characters walk away with their dignity intact; not Milly, not her two sisters, Maggie (Lauren Graham) and Mae (Piper Perabo), and certainly not Daphne. The dog, you know about. Even a supposedly adorable 7-year-old boy is made to say such things as “You have a vagina, I have a penis!” with teeth-gritting frequency. As for the adult males in the cast, their chief functions seem to be to provide sexual fulfillment and then sexual conversation topics for the Daphne clan. There’s hotshot architect Jason (Tom Everett Scott) whom Daphne interviews and immediately takes a shine to, arranging a date for Milly; there’s also Johnny (Gabriel Macht), a single dad and lounge musician whom Daphne deems as far less appropriate for her daughter. But Milly winds up dating them both. Eventually, Johnny’s father, Joe (Stephen Collins), joins the loop by falling hard and fast for Daphne.

It’s not the situations so much as the interminable mother-daughters conversations that lack any credibility; and worse, any respect for an actress of Keaton’s caliber. Mandy Moore somehow emerges relatively unscathed (i.e., likable), but her sisters are cutouts who chatter incessantly about mating, dating and clothes.

As for Daphne, she’s a mess of nonstop meddlesome remarks, high-pitched squeals and wild gesticulations. She must also suffer the indignity of having a huge, very elaborate cake smashed in her face — more than once.

These ladies are constantly getting together or calling each other on their cell phones to discuss and report whatever sexual activity is going on, and often they do this live. What daughter would ever commit such an act of cruelty to her mother and vice versa? Contrary to what director Lehmann may think, women in general tend to be much more discreet than Hollywood gives them credit for.

On the other hand, if any actress can pull this off, it’s got to be Diane Keaton. However silly she behaves and talks, Daphne is never less than a treat to behold — whether she’s lounging around the house in boots and jeans, or delivering a cake in a circular skirt printed with huge polka dots. Keaton’s sense of style remains irreproachable, unmarred by the kind of cosmetic, artificial beauty so many actresses resort to. You’ll see her scrunch up her face in despair, or explode with delightful laughter, and this fearlessness is perhaps what makes her accept roles like this one. At least she looks like she’s having one helluva good time.

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