RIORI Presents Installment #183: Michael Lehmann’s “Because I Said So” (2007)

Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore in Because I Said So (2007)

The Players…

Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore, Gabe Macht, Tom Everett Scott, Lauren Graham and Stephen Collins, with Piper Perabo and Ty Panitz.

The Basics…

All Daphne wants is her youngest daughter Millie to settle down with the right guy. Millie’s sisters are already in fine relationships and have been for almost as long as baby sis has been adrift.

Mom’s no matchmaker, so she sneakily gets all 21st Century on Millie’s butt and posts her best qualities on FaceBook to troll possible bachelors. Because Mom cares, you know?

Say it with me now: “What could possibly go wrong?”

The Rant…

Get this, America. I enjoy romantic comedies. I do. Come on. Who doesn’t like seeing a relationship evolve with a some good yuk-yuks thrown in? It’s all in good fun, and when done right it makes for a good 90 minutes of misty eyes balanced against wit and wisecracks. I’m not made of stone. Sandwiches and beer most likely, but I know when to go along with something all mushy and looking forward to that vital happy ending. Cinematic that is. Yer mind’s in the gutter otherwise and in the wrong, sticky-seated theater. Masher.

I’m not proud to not admit the many times I laughed at one scene in such movies and reach for the Kleenex in another, but I won’t deny that either. I’m sentimental fool, really, and if the rom-com story I’m enjoying at any given has a really good story and a cast I can get behind then here goes the waterworks. Really. Want some personal examples? Tough.

Yes, I got all misty-eyed at the “you complete me” scene in Jerry Maguire, but I was already bawling beforehand when Rod and his family celebrated his cable broadcast victory. Got a little choked up when Richard Gere came to spirit Julia Roberts away in his limo, hopefully driving away to a fairy tale ending. Towards the end of Forrest Gump—admittedly not a traditional nor concise rom-com—I got all to bawl when our titular slowpoke visited his beloved’s grave for the last time. I ain’t made of stone.

Those above are more modern rom-coms, but what about the classics? I’m glad you didn’t ask. Those films I adored never made me weepy, but left me with a feeling of warm satisfaction; everything worked out right in the end. Take Breakfast At Tiffany’s, for example. It’s romantic. It’s also comic in a wry way. Despite the lighthearted nature of the film it was lit with shadows. It was notorious in the film’s making that Tiffany‘s author of the source material Truman Capote was totally offended how the story was bowdlerized (probably to make it sell tickets, which it did. A lot) and his ideal Holly Golightly should have been played by Marylin Monroe, of all people. In the book Truman’s Holly was a call girl and her friend Paul was a reclusive, gay writer. In the film version, Hepburn’s Holly was a gold digger and Paul was straight, albeit a (failing) writer who paid the bill by providing certain “services” to a wealthy, married Patricia Neal. Something like that.

Capote pilloried the mauling of his story, but after watching Tiffany’s more times than perhaps RuPaul has streamed his race, I think tiny Truman missed two points of this rom-com that make me feel so gosh darn good after watching it. It’s the small ways where lonely Holly and Paul connect, minus any bedroom eyes. It is possible to learn to love someone as an individual and not an object of amour. Tiffany’s illustrated that, in the offhand scenes. Holly dragging Paul to Tiffany’s as a lark. Paul signing the library’s copy of his lone book, dedicating it to Holly. And of course Paul rescuing the cat in the finale. We’re all so lucky to happen upon that kinda romance. Satisfying.

On the opposite side of the field regarding classic rom-coms, Woody Allen’s masterpiece (which he would be first to disagree) Annie Hall aims for the laughs based on the bittersweet formula of how relationships begin and how they crumble. It’s a rom-com alright, heavy on the com part. It’s also satisfying, however in the opposite of Tiffany’s. Namely it’s all too human, too existential and all too neurotic. This is a Woody Allen flick after all, and it wouldn’t be one without Woody getting all clumsy with Diane Keaton’s Annie (…wait a minute). Ultimately Annie works not as just romantic and funny but also fragile. There’s always a sense of doom hanging over Alvy Singer’s dream girl and a feeling that all will dissolve at a moment’s notice. Surprise, it does.

Also unlike Tiffany’s there’s is nothing cute about Hall. Hilarious and irreverent, but never requires Kleenex. What ruins a decent rom-com is a severe allergic reaction to the cutes as a substitute for humor. Nope. What succeeds in Hall‘s contribution the genre is, well, not everything works out. This is true in real life, but seldom in the movies. I could pick apart this movie like I did the ur-rom-com Tiffany’sbut as we most know breaking up is easy to do. Just ask Woody. And Mia if you dare.

What also makes a memorable and sweet (seriously this time) is sense of irreverence. Bucking the norm. The nice boy from across the tracks connecting with rich girl or what have you. All I have to say is “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel and you get where I’m headed. Right. John Cusack holding a massive boombox over his head hoping that Ione Skye won’t spurn him again.

Say Anything… is probably where the term “adorkable” entered our lexicon without ever being uttered in the movie. Cusack’s Lloyd is awkward, sweet-natured and has not much going for him. But he is good at being Skye’s valedictorian Diane Court’s boyfriend, and she never made time for dating at all. The movie shows that not all relationships are made in heaven. If they did, then why bother? Love is complicated, if not insincere at times. Thats why Anything… works. Beyond being funny and sweet (in the best way possible) we have simpleton Lloyd Dobler just wanting to love Diane. That’s all. It’s a relief.

There’s a few of my choices for good, if not great rom-coms. In a world of hackneyed, predictable, winking love stories a select few that just come across as human and that’s worth or while and a pint of Haagen Dazs. When done right these offbeat stories of life, love and leaving really stick to your ribs and worth revisiting again and again.

Let’s slow down there.

Um, the key phrase is “when done right.” That’s not so easy to come by with rom-coms these days. I blame the Hallmark Channel and Kate Hudson personally. Too much cute, too many plastic characters—if not ciphers—too many recycled plots and their devices. Too many “homecomings” and waaay too many white people. Cookie cutter is what I’m aiming at, and these dime-a-dozen films are caked with sugar. And they are f*cking everywhere.

So in the final analysis what does that mean? “When done right?” Believe it or not there is a formula with genre films to not be formulaic, at least not overtly. The ancient Greeks thought there were only two types of plays: comedy and tragedy. One has a happy ending, the other usually ends with stabbing and/or poison. You decide which is which. Not all the endings to either kind of play is black and white. What makes movies—and stories and plays—define one from another is nuance. I don’t mean the winky-winky kind of “nuance” that plagues almost every freakin’ Meg Ryan vehicle. I mean like the almost subliminal kind. Idiosyncratic. Annie Hall is a prime example of this kind of rom-com. As much as it is funny and has the right stuff to be romantic, the story is more or less about Alvy Singer’s lost love through his neurotic lens. The obvious funny bits are universal (EG: the lobster scene), but what first belted out laughter form me was Alvy’s opening monologue talking about “screaming about socialism.” I nearly died, and that is the kind nuance I can get behind in a rom-com. No pandering. Keep you guessing. Anything that avoids the old warhorse tropes like the endearingly clumsy cute girl hooking up with the bland but kind single dad. Roman Holiday was sweet but never saccharine, most likely because Gregory Peck’s gravitas balanced Audrey Hepburn’s grace. Balance is just as important as nuance in a rom-con I say. Refute me.

Because I Said So tried very hard to. Very trying.

The Story…

Daphne Wilder (Keaton) is a brilliant psychologist, but just because you help others with their thoughts does not mean you can read minds.

She’s a single mom of three very kind, very different daughters. We have the witty Maggie (Graham) following in Daphne’s footsteps as an established therapist. Mae (Perabo), the “wild child” (every family’s got one). Last but not least there’s Millie (Moore), sweet, clumsy, hapless Millie. Maggie and Mae are already in good relationships, married and happy for it. Millie? Either she never made the time what with her busy catering service or never got around to finding the right guy. If one even existed.

Daphne does not want her pretty, dorky daughter to stumble through life alone. She knows what’s best. Millie needs a decent man to connect with, but blind dates and speed dating aren’t the way. Daphne—knowing Millie best—opts for virtual “résumé” of her daughter’s plusses and minuses and posted on social media.

In sum, Daphne’s gonna troll for eligible bachelors via Facebook. It’s the best course of action to find what she, er, Millie needs.

Once more with feeling: “What could possibly go wrong?”

The Breakdown…

I watched Because I Said So over a period of four nights in 20 minute increments. Why? I had a bad feeling, and knew I could not digest this farce in just one sitting without sacrificing objectivity and running out of all the popcorn in the house to throw at the screen. It didn’t turn out to be that bad, but Because was rather annoying. All the tropes were there. The Three Stooge sisters. The well-meaning but meddling mother. Mister Nice Guy vs Mister Rich Guy. Precocious moppet. That guy from 7th Heaven. It was all there. Ready made for the bargain bin at FYE. Help yourself.

It did take a while for me peel back the layers of this onion of a movie. I say onion not because it made me cry but that something smelled funny over those four nights. It was not the stale popcorn on the floor. Recall what I said about Classical drama a light-year ago? Right. Tragedy and comedy? Right. You wanna know else was good and spinning tragedy and comedy into really good drama? Right. Woody Allen.

Oh shut up. You knew the answer before I asked the question. Even without Googling something. Quit smirking.

Shakespeare knew how to twist the twisted nature of romance into real potboilers over his illustrious career. Romeo And Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest and the infamous Taming Of The Shrew. That’s the one I wanna talk about. Here. Against Mandy Moore’s leading lady role. Mandy Moore. “Candy.” Right. Shakespeare. Goes together like bacon and ice cream. Here, take my hand.

For those who don’t know (or never bothered to attend their senior year English class), Taming Of The Shrew is a black comedy before there was ever such a thing as black comedy or the Wayans brothers. The story goes thus: wealthy Mr Minola wants to marry off his two daughters to upstanding young men. Bianca—Daddy’s favorite—has suitors lined up out the door into the town square ready to sweep her off her feet. Her other sister Katarina (the titular shrew of the play. Read: bitch) has always been jealous of her sister. Her beauty, her grace, the attention Daddy never gave Kate. She’s bitter and her nasty disposition chases away any promising young men. Husbands. Bah! Who needs ’em? I’ma gonna be a single gal just to piss Dad off!

Kate’s ploy works. Sort of.

One day this (alleged) rich bachelor comes to Genoa. His name’s Petruchio, and Pete has a hot nut to find a rich wife. He asks the locals who’s the wealthiest man in town. They tell him Mr Minola, and tells them he’s in the market for some tail. Does Minola have any daughters? Sure, folks say. There’s the lovely Bianca and her sister, Kate. Bianca’s spoken for, but what about Kate? Cringey. She’s got a bad attitude. Well, Pete likes a challenge (as well as a fat dowery) so he goes any pays a visit on Kate’s dad and makes a proposal: if I can straighten out this wench’s crankiness, you’ll let us get married with full blessings. If not…

This plot will be appropriated for a middling rom-com that tries its best to be as witty as Shrew was (is). Instead of the hapless Minola trying to pawn off his older, wicked daughter on ANYONE that’ll take her, we have Daphne, the control freak; the meddlesome mom doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Her older daughters are hitched and doing fine, while the baby of the clan has a lot to give someone and that someone is her mother by proxy. Daphne wants to feel complete by helping Millie get “complete.” Well, that and filling her own personal emptiness for being an old divorcee.

Enter Johnny and David. Mr Down-To-Earth (one half of Pete parading around as a faux-playboy) versus Mr High Rise (the other half who will die with the most toys). Two possible suitors leading to similar outcomes: happily ever after. Ugh. Sure I like happy endings—Disney is aces all the way—but I do not want them shoved down my gullet as soon as the opening credits finish. I saw where all this was headed two weeks before I watched Because. Not a surprise. To wit, this movie had a big budget LifeTime Network feel, and I’ve never even watched the LifeTime Network. Well, there was that one Cops marathon back in ’99 but otherwise they showed too many doe-eyed white girls. Who would never return my calls.

There was another thing I forgot to mention in the rant about what makes a quality rom-com: they should have something to offer both sexes. Humor is always good. Essential even, but not broad humor. Virtually all rom-coms takes the girls’ side, and not just because females are the protags in such films. Rom-coms are designed to be sexist, and more times than not it’s all about scoring the guy, like the leading lady needs a man to feel whole. Cute and unfunny. I am loathe to admit this but many of Judd Apatow’s movies got it right. No one is perfect, maybe even barely adequate in his ribald view of relationships. Although his stuff can be crass and over the top it is funny and relatable. For example: recall the scene in Knocked Up where Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl try to REDACTED during her second trimester? That sh*t happens. It’s funny for being so on and so awkward. There is no way in Heaven and Earth that a highly eligible bachelor would turn to f*cking Facebook to score a girl. Isn’t that against their policy or something? That kind of truck only passes for humor in the almighty cute and winking world of Because and others of its ilk. Such a gag also reinforces lame ass gender tropes that were stale back in the 90s. The whole atmosphere felt dry.

Because is still a comedy, and we got to give praise to the capable, inoffensive cast who did the best they could. Truth be told I liked the main characters (save Scott who lacked any presence), fluffy as they were. I know that’s part of the whole deal, but there were some sparks here and there that amused me. Because was more snicker worthy (not mention groan worthy) than laugh out loud. There was a low-key zany going on. Think the Three’s Company kind of humor that revolves around misunderstandings. There are quite a few sight gags, quite a few pratfalls and quite a few quick witticisms all wrapped up in a nice, neat gooey package about the difficulties of maintaining/establishing a romantic relationship. It would be all rote if it weren’t for our two leads.

Diane Keaton has been playing the same character for 20 years now. Twenty years yes, she still has that golden comic timing. Sometimes Keaton can actually be funnier silent, all that mugging and exasperation. Her Daphne kinda reminds me of my aunt. She’s controlling, anal and full of good intentions. You know where good intentions lead, right? It becomes quickly apparent that Daphne wants Millie to shack up with some guy not so her daughter won’t be alone for the rest of her life rather Daphne needs to fill a personal void. Push meets pull as Millie’s just fine concentrating on her career and evading the stress of dating. That’s where our primary tension lies: mother knows best. So did Gothel in Tangled. Which also starred Mandy Moore. Hmm…

This was Moore’s debut in a starring role. She was capable, if not dorky. Not “adorkable” mind you. She played Millie more like a klutzy middle schooler than a rearing to go career woman. Might’ve been the years of pressure Daphne dumped on her and this lifestyle was her getting back. For the better part of the movie Moore played it nice. Safe. I wasn’t expecting her Millie to have a full on, ‘roid-ragin’ sex scene. Might’ve been cool that, but no she played the simple innocent. Sweet and inoffensive. I would’ve rather seen her have and all out screaming match with Daphne about making her own decisions, but it was not to be.

Like a lot of rom-coms charm is vital. Yeah, yeah. We know this is gonna be fluffy, insubstantial, but it sure as sh*t better be endearing. Charm was the only thing that consistently kept Because afloat and barely, barely skirting a ripoff Jerry Maguire ending. Barely. On the whole the cast was good and gamely played their parts. The plot was for rote but still engaging enough to see how the movie ended even if we knew the ending already. It was likable, but not something you’d add to your collection.

Because had no cats to rescue, no flashbacks or animated interludes, no Peter Gabriel.

I would of rather watched a rom-com like that, with all of those ingredients. Including Keaton.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. It’s a run-of-the-mill rom-com with a good cast, a tired plot device and already queued up on your LifeTime stream. Pass the Haagen Dasz.

The Musings…

  • “That ship’s…docked.”
  • Is it possible to have a white “Magical Negro?”
  • “What does an orgasm feel like?” That’s actually a pretty tricky/very good question.
  • I felt that Cooper the dog was the most well-rounded character.
  • “Can I see it?” Kids these days.
  • Why do all the Wilder girls’ names start with M?
  • The guitar lesson scene was rather cheesy, but to the movie’s credit it was the only cheeze.
  • liked Millie’s laugh.
  • “Happiness is just a series of choices. It’s not something that just sort of happens!” It does in the movies!
  • Waaay too many white people.

The Next Time…

It’s never a Good Time to bust your slow-witted bro outta jail while abusing the New York underworld’s favors. Run Robert, Run.


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