‘Mack & Rita’ review: Becoming Diane Keaton, in a bad movie

Who doesn’t love Diane Keaton? Or honestly, would you like to be Diane Keaton? The Oscar winner has a film and television career spanning six decades, she’s a fashion icon and she’s done it all in her own unique and quirky way. It’s no surprise, then, that in the fantastic and fluffy comedy Mack & Rita – written by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh, directed by Katie Aselton – a struggling young author wants to be as cool and confident as Keaton himself, or someone like she – as in, older. Literally translated, this wish leads to a story that could be described as “Freaky Friday” meets “Old”. It’s a cute concept, but turns out to be lemon once you start kicking the hoops.

Watching Keaton read the phone book would be entertaining. Unfortunately, the phone book would have made more sense than the script for “Mack & Rita,” which ditches character definitions and clear-cut conflicts in favor of fish-on-water physical comedy and some vaguely affirmative lessons about learning to be yourself without too much excuse me, give up

Twenty-year-old Mack (Elizabeth Lail) is a writer-turned-social media writer/influencer. Although she looks young and hip, she’s really an old soul who dreams of living like her dear grandmother, swaying around in colorful kaftans and not caring what other people think. This desire for the caftan life is revealed to be a struggle for Mack, as she violently defies her friends’ teenage capers during a bachelor party in Palm Springs for her best friend Carla (Taylour Paige).

Exhausted from a bottomless brunch, horrified at the prospect of a “Bad Bunny concert in a fridge,” Mack stumbles into a “past-life regression pop-up” and climbs into an old solarium at the behest of Luka (Simon Rex) . He leads her through a meditation on who she really wants to be, and of course Diane Keaton shows up. Suddenly, Mack is the bold and stylish 70-something she always dreamed of being.

Mack poses as her “Aunt Rita” until the problem can be fixed, slipping back into her life with a few bumps along the way. She finds a new groove as Rita, flirts with her neighbor Jack (Dustin Milligan), and becomes a surprise Instagram sensation. The story is ostensibly about how the privilege of old age can help one embrace their weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, but we’re never quite sure what that is for Mack.

If aging is empowering, it’s because of the experience you gain and the lessons along the way; I spent those years earning gray hair and laugh lines. It’s not something you can skip. Mack/Rita eventually find out, thanks to a cheeky grandma’s wine club, but it’s a little too late.

All the age change shenanigans, confusing scenarios, and concept flaws could be forgiven by a better understanding of Mack, whose problems seem muddled and trivial. Rita, well, who is Rita anyway? She’s supposed to be Older Mack, but she’s just Diane Keaton, delivering her signature adorably neurotic routine (when she’s not broken). There’s no consistency of character or performance between Lail and Keaton, and it always feels like we’re seeing Mack AND Rita, not two versions of the same person.

Aselton has an easy hand as a director, and she wisely trots on an all-star parade of comedy heavyweights to distract from the script problems. It’s hard to be mad at a movie where Patti Harrison as Mack’s harried agent juggles three cellphones and Nicole Byer leads a breathing exercise session on the beach that somehow ends up causing Rita’s hair to burst into flames. The supporting characters, even in the smallest roles, are a highlight.

Perhaps a little Keaton cosplay can be therapeutic, but true wisdom comes from time spent, not just an age swap. Thanks to the adventures of Rita, Mack eventually learns to just wear that kaftan whenever she wants, though exactly what stopped her from doing so in the first place remains a mystery.

Katie Walsh is a film critic for the Tribune News Service.

“Mack & Rita”

Valuation: PG-13, for some drug use, sexual cues, and language

Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes

To play: General release on August 12th

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-08-11/mack-and-rita-review-diane-keaton ‘Mack & Rita’ review: Becoming Diane Keaton, in a bad movie

Sarah Ridley

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