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Because I Said So

Perhaps because Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore are established stars who can be relied upon to get the most out of their material - a billing that they live up to in Michael Lehmann's Because I Said So - the most impressive thing about the movie is Gabriel Macht's ultra-smooth move into place as a genuine leading man. When the film was over, it struck me that Mr Macht is the grownup that Ben Affleck can only become in a historical setting, such as Hollywoodland. Because he has complete confidence in the power of his smile - you can see it in his eyes - Mr Macht doesn't overdo it; his smile is relaxed and patient as well as delighted. Unless I'm very much mistaken, this is the kind of guy young women have been waiting for for quite some time. Gabriel Macht is a man. He just turned thirty-five the other day.

That he is Mr Right is never in doubt. Even if you can't read it in his face, his jaunty fedora gives him away. (This also signals a tongue-in-cheek maturity.) But he would probably never meet Milly Wilder, our heroine (Mandy Moore), if her mother, Daphne (Ms Keaton) weren't an incurable meddler. Because I Said So is not quite a screwball comedy, but, like a screwball, it livens up improbable, somewhat dreamlike situations and unlikely coincidences with smart dialogue. In the first such scene, Daphne interviews responders to an impossibly specific Internet inquiry that she has has posted at an Internet dating site, in search of the perfect match for her youngest daughter. The setting is a restaurant, perhaps in a hotel, where Johnny (Mr Macht) plays light jazz guitar in the cocktail-music band. After a succession of pitiable specimens have presented themselves and been rejected by Daphne, the intrigued Johnny comes to sit at her table, and repartee ensues. Without ever talking out of turn, Johnny confronts Daphne with the lunacy of her project, but the conversation is interrupted by Jason (Tom Everett Scott), the last of the suitors. Jason, an architect, is the very embodiment of Daphne's wildest dreams for Milly. Panting with enthusiasm, Daphne gives Jason one of Milly's business cards and suggests that Jason hire Milly's firm to cater the tenth-anniversary party of his firm, and that is where he and Milly meet. It's worth noting that she is not immediately attracted to him. Instead, she brushes him off, claiming that she's busy. It's only when she finds out that he's her client that she pays him any attention.

Jason's Mr Wrongness is clear at the start. He's rather too fond of having his own way, and his self-confidence seems more inherited than earned. At their first meal together, Jason orders Milly's dinner, so that she won't miss the restaurant's best dishes. When she breaks one of his bibelots - a great-grandmother's candlestick? - he almost turns ugly. But Milly hangs in there, helpless in the torrent of her mother's enthusiasm for the architect. He does have Mr Right written all over him, but we can tell from Milly's clouded looks that she's not convinced that the suit belongs to him.  

Happily, Johnny has also squirreled away one of Milly's business cards. After a few pratfally dates, in which Milly is introduced to Johnny's laid-back Dad, Joe (Stephen Collins), and his manic little boy, Lionel (Ty Panitz), and Johnny's house in Venice, the two begin to click, but the idea of dumping Jason so that she can live happily ever after with Johnny doesn't occur to her, because her mother's disapproval would be crippling. Tellingly, it's with Johnny that she shows (even if she does not explain) the torment of her two-timing bad faith. When Johnny catches her coming home from a date with Jason, he asks her to break up with him, but she can't agree or refuse. "That pause says it all," Johnny barks, driving off in disgust. This is a scene to watch, because Mr Macht gives us the suppressed outrage of a decent man, not the whining petulance of a self-absorbed kid.

By this time, Daphne has developed laryngitis. When she's sick, she stays with one of her daughters, and no thanks to bad luck, Milly draws the lot. At Milly's, Daphne installs herself on the couch and watches an old Gary Cooper movie over and over (A Farewell to Arms?). During one viewing, she admits to Milly (with the aid of a notebook) that she has never experienced an orgasm. Milly assures her that orgasms are wonderful, thus lubricating her for the surprise visit, the following night, of Joe. He has stopped by with Lionel because he has lost his housekeys, and has nowhere else to wait for Johnny to turn up (Johnny and Milly are on a date). This is the sort of utter unlikelihood that drives critics crazy, but there's nothing unlikely about Daphne's almost immediate attraction to Joe. The film has by now run through the calendar of film devices to show us that Daphne and Milly are identically wired women. (Daphne's a caterer, too!) Like son, like father.

Milly's house of cards collapses, as it must, but only so that something lasting can be built in its place. Although primarily playing for laughs, Ms Moore and Ms Keaton infuse the mother-daughter battle scenes (I only want what's best for you/I'd rather do it myself) with real pathos. Ms Moore demonstrates yet again that she is unerring when it comes to finding exactly the right chemistry that her character should exhibit with every other. With Jason, she's aspirational; with Johnny, she's surprised; and, with her mother, she's confused. Diane Keaton waltzes through the film in her fantastic dresses - at least until she trips over the couch. She seems here to take extra pleasure in awkward physical comedy, and it's hard to believe that her last film character, Sybil Stone, was gracefully dying of cancer. As Milly's sisters, Maggie and Mae, Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo are game and droll. Mr Collins looks and behaves more like Mr Macht than any celluloid father I've ever seen. Finally, Tony Hale plays an almost endearingly neurotic patient of Maggie's who also contrives to be rejected by Daphne. And he takes the cake. (February 2007)

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