I don't walk out of movies. Period. I even have a hard time stopping a movie on TV. No matter how bad or morally offensive a movie is, I feel that I owe it my full attention for its entire running time.

I didn't walk out of Because I Said So, but I kept my coat on the whole time, just in case.

I think there is a strong argument to be made that this film is, essentially, evil. Herein, Diane Keaton - brilliant, wonderful Diane Keaton, who never went under the knife nor submitted to anyone's pressure to be anything other than her complete self, and therefore has aged more gracefully and more beautifully than any other actress of her generation - is straitjacketed into the role of a cartoon stereotype of a mother. Not even a cartoon: a comic strip, a flat three-panel "beat, beat, joke!" monster of not the slightest depth nor humane moment.

Keaton plays Daphne Wilder, the mother of three daughters: Maggie (Lauren Graham), Mae (Piper Perabo, in a roughly three-second role) and Milly (Mandy Moore), and her only drive in life is to marry them off well. When Milly reaches her mid-twenties with nary a prospect in sight, Daphne does the only reasonable thing: posts an ad on an internet dating service proclaiming that she wishes to interview men until she finds the ideal mate for her youngest.

This is apparently based on a true incident, and therefore it must be regarded as legitimate human behavior. We have to say "good-bye" to it now, because it is doomed to be the last example of legitimate human behavior for a very long time.

It's not that I mind the Bizarro World concept, and it's not that I mind the inevitability of what comes down the pike (the finalists are the Daphne-approved Jason (Tom Everett Scott), a bastard architect; or Johnny (Gabriel Macht), a guitarist single father. WHICH WILL SHE CHOOSE?), it's that I mind how totally joyless the whole affair is. And how bitterly unfunny. As directed by Michael Lehmann (whither Heathers, indeed), Because I Said So is a film that mistakes being loud for being funny and mania for screwball. Here is the film's first big comic setpiece: Daphne is online, looking for "adult friend finders." She ends up on a porno site, loses track of herself watching the sample video, and then having a panic attack when the web-browser won't close (?) and her dog starts watching the porno, so she calls the Gateway service line, screaming to be heard over the porno, tossing a blanket over the monitor, screaming at the dog, screaming at the rep, and then the dog humps an ottoman (FYI: this is when I put my coat on).

That turns out to be a recurring gag, by the way.

This is a film in which there are running gags in which Daphne drops cakes a lot (apparently, she is a professional cake-baker, although this is a mystical sort of thing that is always hinted at, never explained). There are running gags about reaction shots of the dog. Reaction shots. Of the dog.

There is a recurring motif - not even a gag, it's meant to be sincere - in which the Wilder women eagerly discuss each other's sex lives loudly in shoe departments. In which the sisters call Milly right on the cusp of intercourse to give her encouragement. In which Milly and Daphne have a tender conversation about what an orgasm feels like, because Daphne has never had one, because that is a terribly convenient shorthand for...oh, why bother. This is meant to be sassy and exciting and liberated, I imagine, showing their enlightened attitudes towards sex. Instead, it is annoying and creepy, because normal people do not SCREAM ABOUT SEX in the shoe department. Sex and the City is a model of normalcy and decorum next to this film.

I just need to repeat this for my own benefit, because having seen it, I still don't "own" it: Diane Keaton is required to play a scene in which, suffering from laryngitis, she asks Mandy Moore to describe an orgasm to her. I cannot think of a more awful depth to which a great actress has fallen. At least she has laryngitis; we don't need to actually hear her say the words.

In a comedy that is traumatically unamusing, perhaps this is a disingenuous complaint, but it's also very soulless. On paper, this is the story about mothers and daughters struggling through, and hence should be warm and fuzzy and sentimental. And after a fashion, it is, but it has so clearly been assembled! Even in the American film industry, such a transparently fabricated story is shocking and odious. Every beat of the screenplay seems to exist because of some cold unfeeling mechanism that placed it there. The flavorless score rises at precisely the right moment to inform us what emotion should be present for a given scene. This is beyond filmmaking by committee, it is a post-industrial assembly line product, joined together by insensate robotic appendages. There is nothing human in Because I Said So.

Well, there is one human thing, and that is the cast, and I feel such unmeasurable pity for them. They are required to say words that are inconceivable, and perform actions that make no sense. Mandy Moore, perhaps recognizing that she's running out of star-making vehicles, actually puts a bit of effort into things, always acting cheerful and charming and like she cares about the dull dog-and-pony show going on around her, much like the porn star who grins joyously even while several hairy men are ejaculating in her face. But dear Diane, who at one time was the best parts of Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers and Rosalind Russell all tied up in one sublime person, she doesn't care. You can see it in her eyes. Diane Keaton's eyes have always been full of spark and life - think of Love and Death, where she was brilliant; think of Something's Gotta Give, where she was brilliant and the only thing worth watching. There's a smile in those eyes. In Because I Said So, there is no smile. There is only death. Diane Keaton, the most sparkling and living of all modern comediennes, has been reduced to a dead thing. For this, I can never forgive Because I Said So. May it burn in the joyless pit from whence it came.


Want to be really depressed? Check out her next couple of projects:
-Mama's Boy: "A twenty-nine year-old slacker (Jon Heder) who lives with his mom (Keaton) realizes his sweet set-up is threatened when she hears wedding bells with her self-help guru beau."
-Smother: "After he's fired from his job, an everyday guy (Dax Shepard) faces pressure from his wife (Liv Tyler) to have a baby and from his mom (Keaton), who has decided to move in with the young couple."