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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Cutesy imperfections attempt to charm

“Because I Said So” is a culminating film for director Michael Lehman. With “Heathers” he displayed knowledge of how to depict women addicted to drama. “My Giant” illustrated his willingness to put casting opportunities above plot plausibility. And from “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” he learned that every relationship needs a little dishonesty.

All of this comes to bear in “Because I Said So,” a mother-daughter story gone horribly bland, with high-pitched phone conversations, touching emotional vulnerability and necessary love interests, but little else to recommend it.

From the first moment Diane Keaton’s character, Daphne Wilder, appears onscreen, she exhibits all the worst possible traits of a mother-in-law. She is controlling, meddling and emotionally co-dependent with her children. Of her three daughters, Maggie (Lauren Graham) and Mae (Piper Perabo) are married. Only free-spirited Milly (Mandy Moore), who happens to be exactly like her mother in temperament, mannerisms and profession, is still searching for love.

Daphne, fearing Milly will miss her one chance at happiness, takes matters into her own hands and writes a personal ad on Milly’s behalf. While interviewing candidates, Daphne meets and dismisses Johnny (Gabriel Macht, a classic hottie with a classic car), and settles on Jason (Tom Everett Scott, taking his career into his hands by playing a complete jerk), as Milly’s perfect match.

Milly begins dating both men, despite Daphne’s insistence that she get serious about Jason. Daphne also becomes involved with Johnny’s father, Joe (Stephen Collins, who, once the shock of seeing Reverend Camden giving Diane Keaton an orgasm wears off, is excellent). Their relationship is underdeveloped and justified only by the chemistry between the actors. Plus it makes Milly and Johnny’s relationship slightly incestuous.

When the schemes and betrayals come to light, Milly must choose between an overbearing lout and a man who’s been written as irresistibly perfect. The obvious choice leaves audiences with less than bated breath.

The entire film is too saccharine to be taken seriously. Keaton’s acting is reminiscent of a middle-aged Bridget Jones — shrill, whiny, clingy, with no sense of restraint. At least Moore is warm and genuine, even with the contrived insertion of two “family” musical numbers to showcase her voice. Graham has once again delivered

Lorelai Gilmore to the big screen, though she’s funny enough for sidekick status. Perabo does little more than round out the trio of Wilder sisters.

All of the boys are appropriately studly — Macht is dreamy, Scott is necessarily unpleasant and Collins is a generic supportive male mentor. It’s not hard to find the appeal of these guys, but writers Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson have done the careful crafting of the female characters a disservice by surrounding them with such implausible men.

Disappointingly for a film billed as a comedy, most of the genuinely humorous moments were given away in the trailers — save the existence of an extended cameo by Tony Hale of “Arrested Development” as a depressed client of Maggie’s.

The film’s resolution — that even these hopeless, imperfect women can find perfect men to understand, calm and fix them — is offensive in its simpering simplicity. It begs the questions, Where are the imperfect men? Why does something always have to be wrong with the women?

As ultimate maternal trademarks go, “because I said so” isn’t really a good enough premise to tie together two hours of cake-in-the-face physical humor, male eye candy and women’s neuroses. It lacks the authority of “you’ll shoot your eye out” and the sweetness of “don’t let the bed bugs bite.” The film is an unsatisfying offering from a promising cast and a director who should know better.

“Because I Said So” was written by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson and directed by Michael Lehman.

“Because I Said So” received two out of four stars.