Mack & Rita
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Stars: Diane Keaton, Elizabeth Lail, Simon Rex, Dustin Milligan
Writers: Madeline Walter, Paul Welsh
Director: Katie Aselton
Diane Keaton is one of the few movie stars whose mere presence is, for me at least, always worth the price of admission. That alone is reason enough to go see Mack & Rita, the new comedy starring Keaton as a 30-year-old who finds herself trapped in the body of a woman more than twice her age.
As usual, Keaton does not disappoint — even in a film that sets up a fun fantasy premise but stumbles when it comes to delivering a compelling story to follow it up. In fact, perhaps inspired by Keaton’s valiant efforts, the entire cast gamely pushes through, transcending the material for 90 or so mostly enjoyable minutes.
Mack (Elizabeth Lail), is a 30-year-old Internet influencer — one of those insufferable folks who make a living posting videos of themselves eating at posh restaurants, wearing the latest designer clothes, and cavorting around elegant resorts. While she’s mired in New Media, however, Mack is a decidedly old-fashioned woman. Mightily influenced by a childhood spent in the care of her grandmother, Mack is a self-described old soul in a young body.
On a girls’ weekend in Palm Springs with three friends, Mack happens upon a New Age-y guru (Simon Rex) working out of a tent. Venturing inside, she lets him seal her into a tanning bed-type contraption and makes a wish: That she could, at last, be old like her grandmother. A swirling camera effect or two later, natch, Mack looks in a mirror and is shocked to discover she has been transformed into one of the most beloved screen actors of the past 50 years.
Well, that’s not really supposed to be Diane Keaton in her reflection; that’s Mack at the age of 70 (it’s telling that Keaton, now 76, is still convincingly playing younger than her years).
I can sense you stopping me, because you’re already heard this one, about 30 years ago, when a little kid wished he could be “big” and he turned in Tom Hanks. And you’re right: The premise of Mack & Rita is a reworking of Penny Marshall’s Big, with Rex’s fake swami standing in for Big’s boardwalk Zoltar, and with the ages of the characters shifted upward several decades.
That’s okay; lots of really good movies are pretty derivative, and writers Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh even introduce an intriguing twist, as Mack, who has never been able to attract the attention of a handsome neighbor (Dustin Milligan), discovers he finds her 70-year-old version absolutely irresistible (she tells him she is Mack’s aunt, Rita).
In films from The Godfather to Baby Boom, Keaton has radiated a wistful blend of perpetual perkiness and sustained melancholy. She mines those two veins effectively here — and what’s more, here she’s found a perfect match in Milligan, who was so wonderful as the charming veterinarian on TV’s Schitt’s Creek. By far, the best moments in Mack & Rita come when director Katie Aselton simply lets the camera roll and capture these two pros playing off each other.
For more than a century, Hollywood has inflicted upon moviegoers countless stories of young women crushing on older men. If nothing else, Mack & Rita deserves all the credit in the world for not only flipping that narrative, but doing so with such effortless charm.
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