Because I Said So: Michael (Heathers) Lehmann’s Film Starring Diane Keaton as Woman Who Never Had Orgasm

Would you rather see the charming Diane Keaton as the star of a romantic comedy in which she plays a woman ready for another affair, as in the Oscar-nominated “Something’s Gotta Give,” or as a co-star, a young widow and domineering mother, who had never experienced real orgasm, as in the new fluffy and literal “Because I Said So.”

Director Michael Lehmann, who in 1989 made one of the best high school satires, “Heathers,” has gotten softer, kinder, and blander at middle-age, judging by the mediocre fare he has been responsible for: “The Truth About Cats & Dogs,” “40 Days and 40 Nights.” As a two-generational chick flick, “Because I Said So” gives bad name to a genre that’s rising in popularity if not in quality (Stay away from Nancy Meyers’ “Holiday”).

Diane Keaton plays Daphne Wilder, a mother whose love knows no bounds or boundaries. As a single parent, she has raised three fantastic girls who unfortunately come across as types, and not just because their first names begin with M.

Milly (Mandy Moore of “A Walk to Remember” fame) is a klutzy but adorable youngster who works as a chef. Maggie (Lauren Graham of TV’s “Gilmore Girls”) is a stable psychologist with a whole line of eccentric, movieish patients. Mae (Piper Perabo, recently seen in “The Prestige”) is the sexiest and most irreverent.

Problem is, Daphne, a yenta if there ever was one, is so adorable, that the daughters are ready to strangle herliterally. This becomes evident in a crucial scene, when a decision has to be made as to which daughter will take their mom under her wings. The only way to go about it as to have a beteven if it’s not based on fair rules.

The movie addresses itself to the question of, is there any “good” time to detach yourself from your mom, cut the apron strings. To prevent her youngest, Milly, from making the same romantic mistakes that she did, Daphne decides to set her up with the “perfect” man. Unbeknownst to Milly, she places an ad in the online personals to find her a catch.

A semblance of comic chaos ensues as the well-intended plan backfires and Milly finds herself courted by two men at the same time. As for Daphne, she continues to do the wrong thing for the right reason, or is it the right thing for the wrong reason. The movie is so inconsequential that it really doesn’t matter which route it takes.

As co-written by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson, the males who court Millie also represent types. At one extreme is Jason (Tom Everett Scott of TV’s Saved1″ and “One True Thing”), a responsible, down to earth but courtly architect who treats Milly as a lady. At the other is Johnny (Gabriel Macht, who can be seen now in “The Good Shepherd”), a free-spirited, bohemian musician.

For the first half of the movie, Daphne pushes, cajoles, suggests, and nudges her way to Milly’s smallest of decisions. In the second, bound for a comeuppance, Daphne needs to be “punished” and to right the wrongs of her own life choices as she’s about to drive her girls nuts.

Dramatic turning point is Daphne’s confession about never experiencing an orgasm (the same plot device that also failed to work for “Shortbus,” the very different movie from John Cameron Mitchell). Indeed, once she gets laid, Daphne becomes slightly more tolerable, or at least less visible and vocal; at one point, she loses her voice from screaming.

Upon meeting Johnny’s own father, Joe (Stephen Collins of “Blood Diamond” and TV’s “7th Heaven”), buried sparks begin to fly between him and Daphne, who lets loose of all of her repressions. Going through a crisis of her own, Daphne begins to wonder whether she is just punishing her daughters as a way of ignoring her own needs and issues.

Writer Jessie Nelson has a penchant for sappy middlebrow stuff, as was clear in her scripts for “I Am Sam” (with Sean Penn) and “Stepmom,” which she also co-scripted with Karen Leigh Hopkins. There’s room for movies that challenge the old notions of what a family is, but not of this kind.

In the press notes, Hopkins claims that the idea for the movie began at a routine dentist appointment, while she was passing time in the waiting room. It was there that she overheard the story of a mother who was proud of setting up her daughter on dates with men she believed were eligible. Star Diane Keaton is also credited for her input on the script; I can only imagine what it was like without her contribution.

“Because I Said So” is the kind of mindless, predictable movie that doesn’t make any demands on the audience, but it’s not even entertaining as a TV chick flick. (The quality of writing of telepics these days is superior to that seen on the big-screen). You know the kind of fluff you are watching when Daphne’s dog gets as many close-ups and reaction shots as she does, particularly when she watches semi-porn stuff on her TV screen, which also arouses the dog.

I realize that a talented actress like Diane Keaton needs to make a living, too, and that at 60, she may not have as wide a choice as we would like her to have. Even so, Keaton, who otherwise possesses light comic skills and wonderful sense of timing, is encouraged by the director to overact, and I don’t recall the last time she was so broad and desperate in her acting. Like Jane Fonda in the equally misconceived and unfunny “Monster-in-Law” (in which she domineers her son), Keaton goes overboard in her character’s descent into comic madness, practically chewing the scenery.

As mediocre as “The Family Stone,” in which Keaton played a dying mom, was, it had at least two or three touching scenes, and also benefited from a gifted ensemble of stars. Here, the only performers who are moderately likable are Mandy Moore and Gabriel Macht. The fact that Moore doesn’t look glamorous or beautiful may prove attractive to a larger fan-base of teenage girls and young women.