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The Worst-Reviewed Movie Ever?

February 14th, 2007 by David Kronemyer · 2 Comments

I refer to the recent “Because I Said So.” Produced by the Englishman Paul Brooks, also known for his “straight to video” productions, it brings a distinctively British music hall sensibility to the romantic comedy genre. There are times when movie reviewers seem to trip all over themselves, trying to out-do each other with superlatives. Here, it’s exactly the reverse. Said Joe Morgenstern, film critic of the Wall Street Journal:

“As almost everyone knows by now, the early part of the year has become a dumping ground for dreadful movies. Still, ‘Because I Said So’ constitutes unusually toxic waste. It’s toxic to mental health, a hideously shrill sitcom in which a little boy with ADD is no more agitated than the production that surrounds him. And it’s a waste of considerable talent, not to mention precious time. * * * [T]his film bespeaks a truly startling mistrust of the movie audience, and, what’s more, a disrespect for the feature film medium.”

Morgenstern, J., “‘Because I Said So’ Orders Up Laughs, Forgets the Humor,” Wall St. Journal (Feb. 3, 2007).

Said the Los Angeles Times:

“Not long into ‘Because I Said So,’ which stars Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore as a mother and daughter bound by a mutual dependence so neurotically obsessive it makes the affair in “Last Tango in Paris” look breezy and wholesome, I was reminded of the pancake-wrapped sausage that Jon Stewart has been waving around lately on ‘The Daily Show.’ It may not seem immediately apparent, but ‘Because I Said So’ and breakfast-on-a-stick share a great deal in common: a fresh-from-the-R&D-lab quality common to food that’s engineered to be ‘fun’ but is actually sad, an utter lack of nutritional value combined with a surfeit of kidney-macerating toxins — they combine certain recognizable properties that have been distorted into something unrecognizable and scary. Keaton is like the sausage too, as she has been reduced to a set of basic features (neurotic isolation, emotional frigidity, clumsiness) served up in the most infantilizing manner. After the injury of the movie will no doubt come the insult of negative reviews that will nonetheless predict a modest success with female audiences. A depressing example of what passes for a ‘woman’s picture’ in a not exactly woman-friendly media era, it’s the kind of mother-daughter movie you can take your mother to (I did), only to have her take offense at the condescension and wonder ‘how the smart, professional people who supposedly made it can look at that and think it’s good.’ * * * ‘Because I Said So’ is not so much phoned in as it is auto-dialed with a text-to-speech prerecorded message in one of those creepy robotic voices. From its very first sequence — a wedding triptych in which her two elder daughters are married off while her youngest is apparently consigned to follow in her mother’s own wedding-catering, perennially single footsteps — the movie sets about to methodically trace every romantic comedy cliché in the book. * * * ‘Because I Said So’ rejects recognizable (and therefore funny) human behavior for a formula so trite it became self-parodic long ago. Watching it, you can’t help but wonder why anyone bothers. But maybe there’s a clue in the title — joyless and rote, it feels like the grim execution of orders, the foot-stomping compliance to arbitrary rules that make no sense.”

Chocano, C., “‘Because I Said So’ – Parental guidance hits a low with Diane Keaton’s meddling mom,” Los Angeles Times (Feb. 2, 2007).

The New York Times:

“[I]t is a mild exercise in deliberate mediocrity, with chuckles and heartwarming moments distributed as carefully as nuts in a factory-made brownie. The movie’s lack of ambition is hardly surprising, but both Ms. Moore and Ms. Keaton, who can wring flustered comedy out of the mildest provocation, deserve better. * * * The story ambles forward without the accelerating complication that good screwball requires, frequently substituting pop-song-accompanied montages for actual dramatic development. The dialogue yields few memorable jokes, and so the filmmakers fall back on trivial sight gags and bits of physical comedy. * * * [T]he movie barely even tries. According to its press materials, ‘The idea for ‘Because I Said So’ began with a routine dentist appointment.’ It has now come full circle.”

Scott, A., “Mother, Please, I’d Rather Do It Myself,” New York Times (Feb. 2, 2007).

The trade publications were equally lacerating. Daily Variety:

“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.”

Harvey, D., “Because I Said So,” Daily Variety (Feb. 1, 2007).

And, Hollywood Reporter:

“It’s dispiriting to see a great actress like Keaton buying into this nonsense with such gusto. Still, as Daphne, the control-freak cake entrepreneur nearing her 60th birthday, she’s the closest thing to a three-dimensional person in the film. Mandy Moore is an appealing performer, but ultimately she can’t turn Milly, the object of Daphne’s pathological concern, into more than a collection of comely pouts and tantrums. The script by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson, two of the writers of 1998’s ‘Stepmom, is a compendium of cliches.

Linden, S., “Because I Said So – Bottom Line: A shallow rom-com that’s not just eager but frantic to please,” Hollywood Reporter (Feb. 3, 2007).

I took a quick poll of the reviews listed on Google, and something like 90% of them were in a similar vein.

I would like to figure out how to develop a correlation between gross domestic box office, and reviews. You can find the first element of the equation just about anywhere. The second would require some kind of ranking system, certainly more sophisticated than the “one star, two star, three star” approach. I have read academic articles attempting this exercise, but they are unpersuasive.

But in the case of “Because,” let’s face it. Reviews like these aren’t just quibbles over plot line or character development. It’s pretty savage stuff! Even so, the movie grossed $13,122,865 on its opening weekend, and to date has grossed $26,387,390 (per the on-line site, boxofficemojo.com). While not stellar, this isn’t all that bad, either. It opened in 2,526 theaters, which is way too many; the cost of the ad campaign surely was high. [Interestingly, none of the second-week ads quote any of the reviews, as newspaper ads for movies are wont to do!]

If the negative cost was around $25 million, and P&A was around $10 million, then it still has a ways to go, in order to recoup. Keep in mind the exhibitors typically retain around 50% of gross, and Universal’s distribution fee probably is around 15%, which means total domestic remittances are more like $11.2 million. Foreign will be poor, as romantic comedies typically are culturally-specific; they don’t “travel well,” to use the jargon of the industry. There will be some domestic video activity, HBO probably will kick in around $500K for a pay cable window, and there will be modest revenue from other TV sources (pay-per-view, basic cable, free TV, syndication). But that’s it.

This being so, it certainly is better off than Mr. Brooks’ previous production, “Slither.” Released in March 2006, it grossed $7,802,450 against a reported production budget of $15 million. This resulted in a multi-million dollar loss, by anybody’s calculation. Mr. Brooks was put in the unusual position of publicly apologizing for the film’s poor reception, possibly the first time ever this has happened in recent Hollywood history, Kit, B., “’Slither’ leaves gloomy trail,” Hollywood Reporter (Apr. 5, 2006). And, even the picture’s distributor, Universal Films, walked away from it. “Another case of a distributor claiming to simply be a gun for hire, Slither crawled to $3.9 million at 1,945 venues. A spokesman for Universal Pictures stressed that they released the horror comedy as part of a deal with Gold Circle Films, which financed Slither,” Gray, B., “’Ice Age 2′ Hot, ‘Basic Instinct 2’ Not,” boxofficemojo.com (Apr. 3, 2006).