Diane Keaton Is Fabulous at Any Age in Body-Swap Comedy ‘Mack & Rita’
It is said that youth is wasted on the young, and older people taking measures to stop the natural aging process are commonplace on screen and in real life. But what about those young people who yearn for old age? In the comedy “Mack & Rita,” 30-year-old Los Angeles writer Mack (Elizabeth Lail) is the kind of gal who prefers sensible shoes to fashionable heels and cozy nights at home to late nights out. Her sensibilities come from the gregarious woman who raised her, her Grammie Martin (Catherine Carlen). During a period of writer’s block, she travels to Palm Springs for the bachelorette party of her best friend, Carla (Taylour Paige), and it is there that she has a life-altering experience, literally transforming into a 70-year-old woman, Rita (Diane Keaton), in a reverse “Big” situation.
It is after a boozy brunch that Mack breaks away from her friends, as she is more interested in checking out a place that does past life readings than she is in seeing an impromptu Bad Bunny concert in a parking lot. It is there in a large tent that she meets an eccentric guru, Luca (Simon Rex), who instructs her to lay down in a tanning bed while he does some sort of chant. When she gets out, he is gone and she is now stuck in the body of a much older woman. She only reveals the truth to Carla. To everyone else, she is Mack’s aunt Rita, including Mack’s neighbor/crush, nice guy Jack (Dustin Milligan), who strikes up a sweet friendship with Rita that takes them both by surprise. As it turns out, Mack is more at ease being with him as Rita than she was before.
The situation gets more tricky after Mack’s obnoxious agent Stephanie (Patti Harrison) blows up her phone and reminds her of some paid partnership commitments she made, including one with a pilates studio. Rita goes to a class not realizing what she is getting into. Keaton is not a performer whom one usually associates with physical comedy, but she goes all out in this scene in which Rita struggles to use a pilates machine. Rita’s post on Mack’s Instagram account go viral, making her an overnight social media star.
While society is often quick to put women of a certain age out to pasture, the older ladies we see here through Mack/Rita’s eyes are vibrant and plucky, starting with her grandmother, a sweet Southern gal with penchant for colorful clothes who isn’t afraid to take up space. Rita ends up joining a group of fun and sassy older women for a wine club (veteran actresses Loretta Devine, Wendie Malick, Lois Smith and Amy Hill), finding the emotional support she needs from these badass ladies who have embraced the freedoms and benefits that come with aging.
Complications arise with Rita’s commitments that come with being an influencer get in the way of her maid of honor duties for Carla’s wedding. Although at first it does not seem believable that Zoomers and Millennials on IG and TikTok would embrace a septuagenarian, it does kind of makes sense when one considers how beloved someone like Betty White was, and how much social media played a role in her popularity during the last 10-15 years of her life. With so much cynicism and phoniness out there, how can one resist an unassuming, stylish older woman with a real lust for life?
“Mack & Rita” contains a great message about self-acceptance and being fabulous at any age. It is meant to be the kind of film a young woman can watch with her mother or grandmother on a leisurely afternoon. However, director Kate Aselton and writers Paul Welsh and Madeline Walter mostly play it safe when it comes to the humor, as there are plenty of moments where they could have gone further and punched it up a bit. The closest we get to anything that pushes the envelope is a sequence in which Mack/Rita does mushrooms in an attempt to get her younger body back. Watch out for a surprise cameo.
“Mack & Rita” releases Aug. 12 in theaters nationwide.