‘Mack & Rita’ Film Review: Diane Keaton Plays a Young Woman’s Old Soul in Charming Comedy

An ensemble cast bolsters this farce, which plays out as the best, most necessary brand of silly

Mack Rita
Gravitas Ventures

When we think of old age, we think of wisdom (charitably) or frailty (less charitably), the weathered faces of elders showing us our future. Or consider a more spritely vision of the aging process: Think of colorful scarves and oversized knits. What about silk robes and high-collared shirts? Maybe a glass of red wine on ice?

This is the paradise that retirement age has to offer not our society’s aged, but rather Mack, the frazzled “old soul” at the center of Katie Aselton’s age-swap comedy “Mack & Rita.”

Written by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh (both alums of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), the gentle film takes quirky introvert Mack (Elizabeth Lail, “Ordinary Joe”) out of her comfort zone of books and linen clothing and into her best friend Carla’s (Taylour Paige, “Zola”) bachelorette party. It’s there that Mack realizes just how unlike other girls she really is, balking at the non-stop parade of selfies and mimosas. If only she could hang out with Carla’s laidback mom (the always welcome Loretta Devine) and her wine club.

One thing leads to another — a past-life regression tent in the middle of Palm Springs run by a disheveled huckster (who else but Simon Rex) — and Mack emerges from a busted tanning bed not in her own body but inside that of a 70-year old woman (Diane Keaton). Hijinks, of course, ensue.

“Mack & Rita” — Mack calls herself the latter when she’s in Keaton’s body, pretending to be her own non-existent aunt — falls victim to some broad cringe comedy and moments of squirmy second-hand embarrassment. Keaton, though enduringly charming, is perhaps not the knockabout comedienne she once was (and should perhaps avoid sequences in which she has to pretend she’s on hallucinogens). But “Mack & Rita” reveals itself to be an odd, sweet and, at times, maybe even deranged film, full of charismatic performances and an earnest message about being yourself.

As Rita, Mack is able finally to come into her own; she can do what she wants, and because our society respects the elderly (to a point), no one will question her. She can get midday lunch with her cute neighbor Jack (Dustin Milligan, “Schitt’s Creek”). She can gossip with her wine club whenever she wants. Even Carla grows to accept Mack as Rita, and she discovers a newfound joy in her friend’s otherwise strange taste in clothing and leisure activities.

“Mack & Rita” could easily join the ranks of “Book Club” or “Poms,” other broad Keaton comedies about aging that milk her lengthy career for laughs, but it feels far more in line with the work of Ol Parker (“Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” films). There’s a nuance to its view on getting older, treating it as a complicated matter, not always enjoyable but often dictated on one’s own terms. There’s also some relatively astute insight on the use (and soullessness) of social media and the ways in which bodies, regardless of age, are put on display online for the enrichment of corporations to. At times, the Instagram commentary in “Mack & Rita” feels far more cutting than other satires du jour.

There’s plenty of oversimplification in “Mack & Rita,” a movie that seems to believe that the nature of being an old woman boils down to wearing chunky jewelry, and it could stand to push its strange, “Freaky Friday”–esque premise further, ignoring obvious jokes about Rita’s ability to do pilates or the drape of her elderly breasts. But the desire to be tough on the movie only emerges, in part, because of how much of it is working.

“Mack & Rita” is ultimately brimming with heartful, lovely performances, especially by Taylour Paige and Loretta Devine, perfectly cast as mother and daughter. Patti Harrison, in particular, as Mack’s vicious, business-minded agent Stephanie is a laugh a minute, always popping up at the most inopportune (or opportune) time.

Stephanie is the closest thing the film has to a villain, and beyond her, the world of “Mack & Rita” is simply a great place to be. People are glamorous, encouraging, and winning, full of positivity and acceptance. Though Mack sees herself as an outsider, a glaring error in her generation, her friends like her nonetheless. They find her funny and smart, and though they may chastise her for having no interest in seeing a pop-up Bad Bunny concert, they’re quick to support her when she needs them. So too does Rita find solidarity with her wine club, and even her budding June-December romance with her neighbor feels plausible.

“Mack & Rita” is silly, but it’s a strong, necessary kind of silly, a warm and embracing kind of silly. Keaton has rarely been so bubbling and bright, reminding us that regardless of age, being true to yourself is all that really counts in a person. The love will come no matter what.

“Mack & Rita” opens in US theaters August 12.