As comedy titles go, “Because I Said So” is about as subtle and inviting as “Monster-in-Law.” Still, you can’t say either of them is misleading.
Both movies rely on aging, Oscar-winning actresses who are hungry for offbeat roles and willing to play horrifically possessive mothers. Their characters’ specialty is arranging the romantic lives of their offspring, and in neither film is it a pretty — or funny — sight.
Jane Fonda strained to find a few laughs in “Monster-in-Law,” and now it’s Diane Keaton’s turn to degrade herself. In “Because I Said So,” she plays Daphne Wilder, the accident-prone mother of three grown daughters: Maggie (Lauren Graham), Mae (Piper Perabo) and Milly (Mandy Moore).
Maggie and Mae are settled, but Milly is single, so Daphne places an online personals ad that attracts dozens of losers (all of them humor-free stereotypes). Just when Daphne’s about to give up, a wealthy architect named Jason (Tom Everett Scott) appears, and he makes plans to rendezvous with Milly.
Almost simultaneously, a poor but honest musician named Johnny (Gabriel Macht) makes a play for her as well. Well, at least he’s supposed to be relatively poor. Like everyone else in the movie, he lives in conditions that by most standards seem near-palatial.
Daphne picks Jason, partly because she thinks Johnny has “heartbreak” written all over him, but Milly can’t make up her mind. She shocks her mother and sisters by sleeping with both men because she can’t pick just one. Most audiences will guess the identity of the anointed one the moment Milly is introduced to him.
As written by Karen Leigh Hopkins (“Stepmom”) and Jessie Nelson (“I Am Sam”), most of these roles are simply unplayable. Milly, a motormouth who snorts like a hyena and declares everything to be “great,” is just as awkward and needy as her mother says she is. We never learn what Jason or Johnny could see in her.
Maggie is supposed to be a professional psychologist, but her cavalier treatment of one suicidal patient could set therapy back 100 years. Daphne is a shrew whose true nature comes through when her face falls and she hisses at her children. Keaton bravely demonstrates Daphne’s vicious side, but it’s quickly forgotten when she’s matched up with Johnny’s studly, available dad (Stephen Collins).
The director, Michael Lehmann, once had a gift for tart black comedy (“Heathers”), but most of his movies are unwatchable indulgences (“Hudson Hawk,” “40 Days and 40 Nights”). Once more he slips into hard-to-watch territory, with the females becoming particularly obnoxious as the film grinds through a series of strained slapstick episodes.
Collins, Macht and Scott fare better, if only because their characters aren’t so unpleasant. Macht gets the one line that approaches wit (“I love being reduced to a cultural cliche”). Too bad it’s lifted, almost verbatim, from “Annie Hall.”
Lehmann and his writers are apparently trying to say something about the 21st Century battle of the sexes, but the result is confusion bordering on insult. When does a “chick flick” become misogynistic? “Because I Said So” crosses the line, more than once.