'Ugly Betty'

An exercise in canned cuteness, "Because I Said So" pushes its normally appealing stars, Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, over the edge of sitcom hysteria. Formulaic, strained comedy should do OK with femme-skewed auds amid late-winter doldrums, but it's the kind of movie whose bigscreen career seems like a formality before finding its true home on the tube.

An exercise in canned cuteness, “Because I Said So” pushes its normally appealing stars, Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, over the edge of sitcom hysteria. Formulaic, strained comedy should do OK with femme-skewed auds amid late-winter doldrums, but it’s the kind of movie whose bigscreen career seems like a formality before finding its true home on the tube.

Script by thesps-turned-scribes Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson (“Stepmom”) feels composted from umpteen prior flicks, including several (“Hanging Up,” “The First Wives Club”) that involved Keaton herself.

The deft, distinctive comedic style Keaton has evidenced many times before becomes broad, fussy shtick here, while the quirkiness that helmer Michael Lehmann has brought to the better films (“Heathers,” “The Truth About Cats and Dogs”) gives way to generic gloss and pandering yuks.

Daphne Wilder (Keaton) raised her three daughters alone after their father jumped ship early on. As a result, perhaps, she’s overprotective to the point of invasiveness — particularly with youngest child Milly (Moore), who, unlike her married sibs (played by Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo), has yet to find Mr. Right. Daphne (whose gourmet cooking skills fostered Milly’s own catering career) doesn’t realize her well-intentioned “advice” and fussing do more to undermine Milly’s self-confidence than to advance her happiness.

On a whim, Daphne places an online personal ad on her daughter’s behalf, screening the answering bachelors herself in a somewhat racially offensive montage of “loser” candidates. But she finds apparent prospective-husband gold in architect Jason (Tom Everett Scott).

She also meets easygoing Johnny (Gabriel Macht), a musician who plays at the upscale bar-restaurant where she holds these interviews. Latter is charming, but strikes her as by far the less stellar candidate. Johnny manages to meet Milly on his own, however, striking up a romance that awkwardly develops in tandem with her courtship by yuppie dreamboat Jason.

Contrast between the two suitors is tepid at best, since Jason is a bland nice guy with minor control issues and Johnny perhaps the most supportively rock-steady Prince Charming of a professional musician since Liam Neeson’s jazzbo pined for Keaton’s “The Good Mother.” Meanwhile, Daphne finds surprising autumnal sparks flying when she meets Johnny’s dad Joe (Stephen Collins, who played Keaton’s cheating husband in “First Wives”).

No rom-com cliche is left unturned, from slapstick (many cakes meet face) to cute canine reaction shots from Daphne’s Golden Lab and bratty precociousness from the young son of single dad Johnny. Not one but two opportunities are afforded for the four female leads to “spontaneously” belt (poorly, Moore aside) classic soul oldies. Progress predictably shades from broad to treacly, then reverts to unsubtle yuks just in time for the inevitable wedding climax.

Best moments in Keaton’s over-the-top performance occur during the character’s bout of laryngitis — though even then, her hand gestures are frenetic to an aerobic-workout degree. Moore likewise doesn’t seem to be inhabiting a character so much as living up to some preconceived notion of fluttery sitcom mannerism. Scott, Macht and Collins benefit from the fact that pic allows its men to act in a relatively natural fashion.

Hamfisted music cues, highly art-directed apartment “clutter” and a warm if routinely glossy color palette complete pic’s familiar lifestyle fantasy.

Because I Said So

Production

A Universal release of a Universal Pictures and Gold Circle Films production. Produced by Paul Brooks, Jessie Nelson. Executive producers, Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt, Michael Flynn. Co-producer, Wendy Rhoads. Directed by Michael Lehmann. Screenplay, Karen Leigh Hopkins, Jessie Nelson.

Crew

Camera (color), Julio Macat; editors, Paul Seydor, Troy Takaki; music, David Kitay; music supervisor, Dana Sano; production designer, Sharon Seymour; art director, Christopher Tandon; set decorator, Maggie Martin; costume designer, Shay Cunliffe; sound (Dolby), Douglas Axtell; assistant director, Mike Topoozian; casting, Eyde Belasco. Reviewed at AMC Metreon, San Francisco, Jan. 30, 2007. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Daphne - Diane Keaton Milly - Mandy Moore Johnny - Gabriel Macht Jason - Tom Everett Scott Maggie - Lauren Graham Mae - Piper Perabo Joe - Stephen Collins
With: Ty Panitz, Matt Champagne, Colin Ferguson, Tony Hale.

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