Diane Keaton stars in a sweet comedy about a woman who figures out who she is through some magic and time-space bending.
Many of us have been called “old souls.” We are the people who feel out of step with our times. Director Katie Aselton’s Mack & Rita is a charming new comedy for us old gals that provides a refreshing update to the magical comedies of yesteryear.
Young Mack lives with her grandma and can’t wait to get old. For her, old means being carefree, confident, and uncompromising. And she still feels that way when we catch up with 30-year-old Mack (Elizabeth Lail, You) many years later.
As she scrambles to juggle her writing career and be more outgoing for her friend Carla’s (Taylour Paige) bachelorette party, Mack finds herself at the end of her rope. When the opportunity for some spiritual relaxation opens up, she hesitantly takes her chance. But when things don’t go as planned and she emerges from the yurt as a 70-year-old version of herself (Diane Keaton), she has to figure out a way back with help from her friends.
We open with a nod to Now & Then as Aselton places events right in the middle of familiar genre territory. Like those classic millennial body-switch comedies Freaky Friday and 13 Going On 30, Mack & Rita is another tale about learning who you are through being someone else. But unlike those earlier entries, this film doesn’t waste time worrying about belief. Mack knows what’s happened immediately. Carla believes her right away. Gone is the agony of long drawn-out dramatic irony, which gives screenwriters Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Killing It) time to cover different ground.
Unfortunately, the film’s length is spent following Keaton on a mundane meteoric rise to Influencerdom. There’s only enough room for one magical element in this film, so the fantasy that being an Influencer is easy, instantly lucrative, and above all, democratic is a step too far. However, it’s all in service of building towards that archetypal moment when scheduling conflicts with friendship.
That’s when the emotional lessons fully come forward. Because Diane Keaton and Taylour Paige play hilariously well off of each other, they trust each other in the same way Mack and Carla do. Paige is the grounded player to Keaton’s hummingbird style. She holds her own in a room full of legends like Keaton or Loretta Devine, who plays Carla’s mother. Her settled, comfortable performance solidifies the heartwarming intergenerational understanding that Aselton is trying to achieve.
But a note about Carla. Taylour Paige does what she can with a bizarrely written character. Carla is always the voice of common sense, the grounded, street-smart pragmatist who nannies the white woman’s emotional life. This cliche is a problem for Black women characters in general, and we shouldn’t pigeonhole Paige’s talent into this mold just because she was exceptional in Zola. It’s not Black women’s role to do that. Yet, some education was still necessary because the film features lycra-wearing white women saying “slay” unironically.
And it’s not like much creative writing went into Older Mack, either. The character is so entirely Keaton that Lail has to awkwardly try and stutter and flit like her to make the transformation seem logical. Everything we get is pure Diane Keaton, down to the clothes, taste in wine, and the inability to keep it together around cute guys.
That’s not to say Keaton isn’t making choices. The first moment she’s trying to figure out what’s happened is a stunning acting moment. But it’s also clear that Keaton has definitely emerged screaming from a Californian yurt before. Nevertheless, watching Diane Keaton play with the younger kids is endlessly fun, especially when she’s flirting with the hunky neighbor boy, Jack (Dustin Milligan, Schitt’s Creek).
Everyone in the cast is all smiles for this likable and perhaps too simple story. Lail, Paige, Keaton, and Devine, along with their wine crew of seasoned character actors Amy Hill, Lois Smith, and Wendie Malick, are something special. Mack & Rita is partially about generations learning to understand each other, and the palpable sense of ensembleship reinforces that. Yet it’s also a wise lesson about not taking time for granted. Aging helps wine mature, but Diane Keaton has proven that it’s okay to put the wine on ice for a while and enjoy the moment.
Mack & Rita is now playing in theaters.