Diane Keaton is like one of those repurposed bank buildings: The facade is generic neoclassic but walk inside and you're dazzled by the playful tension between the minimalist lines and Baroque gestures. Keaton is a national treasure, always worth the visit even when, as is the case of

Because I Said So

, her movie isn't.

A shrilly diverting piece of counterprogramming for Super Bowl weekend, Because is a one-way trip to Girl World. Keaton rules as daffy Daphne, single parent of three grown daughters, who surreptitiously auditions prospective suitors for her last unmarried child, Milly (Mandy Moore), a caterer. Daphne's the Smother of the Year, the kind of mom who suffocates her daughters while passing them oxygen masks.

Even for a farce, the material is far-fetched, with mom and sisters conference-calling Milly in the middle of her first date with Jason (Tom Everett Scott), an architect vetted by Daphne.

Between them, screenwriters Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson (responsible for Stepmom and I Am Sam, two of the more overheated melodramas of recent years) have concocted this overdone comedy about the romantic pratfalls of caterers.

While I laughed intermittently, I worried that an esteemed male colleague would, if not collapse from the perilously high estrogen levels, start talking exfoliation.

Individually and collectively, Keaton, Moore and Lauren Graham (as the eldest daughter, Maggie) are fonts of fun, womanfully rising above coarse jokes about Internet porn and how tight-sphinctered Mom is. (As the middle sister, Mae, Piper Perabo is woefully underutilized.)

Maggie, a psychologist, offers her analysis that instead of seeking out companionship for herself, her mother is neurotically preoccupied with fixing up Milly with the kind of man Daphne would like. OK, but can we have jokes with that, please?

The film is directed by Michael Lehmann, whose delightful The Truth About Cats and Dogs and piercing Heathers had comic pacing and consistent laughs, something that cannot be said about Because.

I kept wishing that the filmmakers hadn't given Daphne the profession of baker to provide Keaton with props to drop. And that the dialogue had the crackle and pop of Daphne's full-skirted, wide-belted polka-dotted frocks.

However winceworthy the film's crude jokes (especially the running gag about the abuse of the psychologist's whiny patient), I enjoyed the movie's kitchen-table atmosphere and energy. Keaton is the human equivalent of Flubber, bouncy and unpredictable, Moore is adorable, and Graham is drier and droller than anything else on screen.

On the movie map, Girl World is an underserved destination. I wish that all the movie roads that lead there didn't involve a wedding. Because I Said So might have been sharper if it had focused on the mother/daughter relationship and didn't blunt its story with romantic comedy.

Because I Said So ** (out of four stars)

Produced by Paul Brooks and Jessie Nelson, directed by Michael Lehmann, written by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Nelson, photography by Julio Macat, music by David Kitay, distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.

Daphne Wilder. . . Diane Keaton

Milly................................Mandy Moore

Maggie. . . Lauren Graham

Mae. . . Piper Perabo

Johnny. . . Gabriel Macht

Jason.......................Tom Everett Scott

Parent's guide: PG-13 (sexual content, partial nudity)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com