Because I Said So (Universal Pictures; PG-13)

film_saidso_smLovely, emotionally convincing, and blessed with an ability to blend great timing with facial expressions that convey shades of emotion, Moore has come into her own as a young actress and has outshone just about everyone in her peer group in the romantic comedy genre.

 

film_saidso

It's become something of a dismissive label to call a film a "chick flick." There are instant connotations when you do so—the film's obviously about relationships, probably about whether a character is gonna choose the right guy/girl, and what their family and friends think about it, and how the character struggles to follow their heart amidst the evolving conflicts, some of which lead to comic interludes and others of which might make the more sensitive audience members reach for their hankies.

Well, Because I Said So flies its chick flick flag proudly. It's about an attractive young woman named Milly (Mandy Moore), her struggle to choose the right guy, and what her family—including mom Daphne (Diane Keaton)—thinks about it, and how she tries to follow her heart amid the evolving conflicts, some of which lead to comic interludes and…you get the idea. Standard chick-flick stuff here.

Keaton plays a well-meaning but controlling mother who wants her youngest daughter to have a better romantic fate than she did (she's an aging divorcee who admits she never even had an orgasm, cause her husband couldn't be bothered to take the time). Mom decides to take out a classified ad to find the ideal suitor for Milly. A thoughtful, charismatic guitarist named Johnny (Gabriel Macht) overhears her plan and tries to dissuade her, offering to take Milly out himself, cause he sincerely likes her. But Daphne sees him as a high-risk proposition, and instead settles on stable, upscale architect Jason (Tom Everett Scott). Naturally, Milly ends up meeting and liking both guys, while good old Mom does all she can to help one situation and hinder the other.

"Stop hovering; you're like a helicopter!" says sister Mae (Piper Perabo) after observing her mom's constant interference in whatever Milly wants to do. It quickly becomes apparent that for all Daphne's good intentions, she's merely being a pest, and complicating things for her emotionally vulnerable young daughter. And this is well before Milly finds out the secret plot her mom hatched to get her a guy, something the third daughter, Maggie (Lauren Graham), only reluctantly has kept mum about. As if all this weren't enough, Johnny's father Joe (Stephen Collins) seems to have an eye for Daphne. Will Joe provide the passion that Daphne has long been denied? Will Milly be able to decide which guy is right for her without losing both of them before it happens? Will audiences laugh in the right places, or resist the mostly predictable machinations of the screenplay (written by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson)?

Not much mystery to any of this, but overall the film manages to be entertaining. And that's not so much because of Keaton who, though she's earned good will as an actress through the years, is rather cloying and overly talky here. Yes, it's the character, sure, but you kind of wanna slap her at times. It's Mandy Moore who truly carries this film. Lovely, emotionally convincing, and blessed with an ability to blend great timing with facial expressions that convey shades of emotion, Moore has come into her own as a young actress and has outshone just about everyone in her peer group in the romantic comedy genre. Whatever box office this film does will mostly be due to her.

Perabo and Graham provide visual scenery, but don't have much to do other than the latter's amusing scenes with a therapy patient bent on verbal self-flagellation. Scott turns in little more than a rote, mildly detached rich boy turn; Macht is better as the sensitive music dude, but he has more than a few script cliches to overcome in the process. And that's the main problem here – formula pathos and cheap laughs are the order of the day.

It's surprising to see director Michael Lehman, who mined such dark satirical gold from his earlier film Heathers, settling for such romantic-lite fare. All the years he's spent working in television since then have clearly altered his aesthetic. And he's guilty of some shameful stereotyping, particularly in the scene where Daphne is interviewing potential suitors for Milly. Because I Said So is nevertheless a safe date movie—plenty of honest issues about the courtship process these days, although Moore gives them greater depth than the blandly conceived script does. And only the most hardened cynic won't laugh at some of what's on screen. But this film ultimately falls short. "There lots of great almosts out there," says Macht to Keaton at one point, discussing relationships that don't make it. Yes, and that's true of Because I Said So, which is almost—but not quite—a memorable chick flick. | Kevin Renick

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