Review: ‘Mack & Rita,’ starring Diane Keaton, Taylour Paige and Elizabeth Lail

August 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Diane Keaton in “Mack & Rita” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Premiere)

“Mack & Rita”

Directed by Katie Aselton

Culture Representation: Taking place in the California cities of Los Angeles and Palm Springs, the comedy film “Mack & Rita” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 30-year-old woman, who feels older than most of her peers, wishes that she were just like her beloved and now-deceased grandmother, and she’s shocked when her wish comes true, and she physically becomes a woman in her 70s. 

Culture Audience: “Mack & Rita” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Diane Keaton and don’t mind seeing terrible movies that insult viewers’ intelligence and make the cast members look like idiots.

Taylour Paige in “Mack & Rita” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Premiere)

Diane Keaton, please do not allow anyone to talk you into doing embarrassing garbage movies like “Mack & Rita” ever again. If anyone has the misfortune of watching this pathetic excuse for a comedy film, be warned that it is less likely to make you laugh and more likely to make you sad and maybe a little angry that this is the type of moronic junk that Oscar-winning acting legend Keaton has been reduced to doing. And to make matters worse, Keaton is one of the producers of “Mack & Rita,” so she sunk her some of her own money into helping make this atrocious flop.

“Mack & Rita” is supposed to be a female empowerment film. It’s supposed to be a comedy film that’s funny. But just because a woman (Katie Aselton) directed “Mack & Rita,” and just because a woman (Madeline Walter) co-wrote the screenplay doesn’t automatically make this train wreck any good. (Walter wrote the “Mack & Rita” screenplay with Paul Welsh.) In fact, “Mack & Rita” is such an abomination that makes women in the movie look so flaky and ditsy, it’s the opposite of a female empowerment film.

“Mack & Rita” is the third feature film directed by Aselton, who is probably best known to movie audiences as an actress in movies and TV. Her credits as an actress include supporting roles in movies such as 2019’s “Bombshell” and 2018’s “Book Club.” She previously directed and starred in the 2013 horror flick “Black Rock,” an independent film (written by her husband, Mark Duplass) that got mixed reviews. Aselton’s feature-film directorial debut was 2010’s “The Freebie,” a mediocre and lightweight comedy that she wrote. Aselton and Dax Shepard co-starred in “The Freebie” as a married couple allowing each other one night of infidelity. In other words, Aselton has been on plenty of film sets to know better than to dump the trashy “Mack & Rita” into the world.

Comedies about body switches or body transformations need to have cast members with authentic-looking chemistry, in order to make the movies work well. On top of that, even if the story involves sci-fi or fantasy, at least some part of it has to be believable, starting with the way that the characters react to this body change. Unfortunately, “Mack & Rita” fails in every bare minimum of these requirements.

“Mack and Rita” also does a lot of unappealing perpetuating of negative stereotypes of women over the age of 70, by making it look like women in this age group have sex appeal that shrivels up like wrinkled skin. Except for the character played by Keaton, all of the senior citizen women who are supporting characters in “Mack & Rita” just sit around, guzzle wine, and gossip about other people’s love lives, but they don’t have love lives of their own. And when the character played by Keaton does have some romance, it’s played for cringeworthy laughs because (gasp!) she kisses a man who’s young enough to be her son.

“Mack & Rita” has an odd mix of talented cast members and not-so-talented cast members that make their scenes together very hard to watch. The opening scene of the movie shows a quick montage flashback of lead character Mackenzie “Mack” Martin as a 9-year-old (played by Molly Duplass, daughter of Aselton and Mark Duplass) being raised by her sassy grandmother, who’s only given the name Grammie Martin (played by Catherine Carlen) in the movie. It’s explained later that Mack’s parents are deceased. Mack was very close to Grammie Martin, who died sometime when Mack became an adult. Mack admired her grandmother’s confidence and still wishes that she could be more like her.

Mack has now grown up to be a 30-year-old bachelorette writer (played by Elizabeth Lail) living in a Los Angeles apartment building with her dog Cheese. Her only book so far (a collection of personal essays about her grandmother) was a modest hit, but Mack hasn’t had much luck getting a publishing deal for her second book. In the meantime, Mack’s abrasive and snobby agent Stephanie (played by Patti Harrison) has been pushing Mack to become a social media influencer who gets paid for endorsing products and services. Stephanie sneers to Mack in a phone conversation: “Remember, if you’re not getting paid for something, it’s a hobby. And hobbies are disgusting.”

The adult Mack explains in a voiceover: “I grew up always feeling like I was an older woman trapped in the body of a little girl. I think that’s why I was so found of the term ‘old gal.” I was raised by my grandma, who was the coolest ‘old gal’ I ever knew. She would say, ‘Well, that’s because I’m old. I’ve got less time to live, so I’ve got less flips to give.” Get used to the cringeworthy talk in “Mack & Rita,” because this horrible movie is full of it.

Mack continues in her voiceover: “All I wanted was to be like Grammie Martin, but like any kid, I had to fit in. Over the years, I had to hide what I thought was cool. And you know what? It worked pretty well … I did my darndest to keep my inner old gal to myself.”

The movie then rushes through an explanation that Mack will soon be going to Palm Springs for the weekend to attend the bachelorette party of her best friend Carla (played by Taylour Paige), in a house lent to them by a friend of Carla’s mother Sharon (played by Loretta Devine). Before she leaves for her trip, Mack meets with her bachelor next-door neighbor Jack (played by Dustin Milligan), a private wealth manager who’s also 30 years old. Jack has agreed to be the dogsitter for Cheese while Mack is away for the weekend in Palm Springs. (As soon as you see Jack on screen, it’s obvious he will be Mack’s love interest.)

Mack and Jack exchange some awkward small talk because they’re both attracted to each other but don’t want to come right out and say it. He asks her if she would like to go skateboarding with him sometime. Mack politely declines. “Mack & Rita” tells no details about Mack’s previous dating experiences, but the movie repeatedly implies that because Mack wants to be just like her grandmother, she thinks that means she has to live life like the worst stereotype of a boring old lady.

One of the most annoying things about “Mack & Rita” is that it makes people who are supposed to be in their 30s act like they have the emotional maturity of teenagers who are still in high school. There’s Jack and his semi-obsession with skateboarding and expecting women who date him to be interested in skateboarding too. And later, when Mack meets up with Carla and their two airhead bachelorette friends Sunita (played by Aimee Carrero) and Molly (played by Lauren Beveridge), this arrested development in emotional maturity is also on full display.

Mack tells Carla, Sunita and Molly about turning down Jack’s invitation for a skateboarding date. Mack says that this rejection is because she’s afraid that Jack could be a Lothario. It’s an example of Mack being paranoid about dating, because Jack has not shown any indication that he’s a jerk or a creep.

Sunita and Molly then repeatedly ask Mack what a Lothario is. Mack has trouble explaining it to them until she uses the word “player.” Apparently, the “Mack & Rita” filmmakers want people to equate “vocabulary intelligence” with “mentality of a boring old lady,” and that the average 30-year-old woman can’t possibly know what the word Lothario means.

Sunita and Molly are self-absorbed, yammering characters whose personalities are indistinguishable from one another. Molly and Sunita only seem to care about what they see and post about themselves on social media. Carla is portrayed as a loyal and accepting friend who tries to give Mack more confidence and a lot of understanding.

However, Carla’s patience is tested when the “body transformation” happens to Mack, who ends up becoming a popular social media influencer in her new “old woman” body, and Mack becomes an unreliable friend. This information was already revealed in the “Mack & Rita” trailer. You know a movie is bottom-of-the-barrel rubbish when there’s nothing salvagable that can be edited to make the movie’s trailer look interesting.

While the four gal pals are hanging out at a restaurant for lunch, Mack sees two elderly woman dining together at a nearby outdoor cafe. Mack says that she envies how life seems to be so simple for these senior citizens because these old women know who they are and what they want. Mind you, Mack knows nothing about these women or what their conversation is about, so she really has no idea if these women are as happy or as confident as she assumes they are. Mack has a weird fixation on thinking that women of retirement age are supposed to be happier than any other women just because elderly women have lived that long and are old enough to retire. It’s a very misguided and ignorant over-simplication of women.

Mack tells Carla when Mack points out the two elderly women having lunch together: “I want to be like them: just sitting around and falling asleep until someone shakes me awake.” What a condescending and ageist perception of elderly women. “Mack & Rita” repeatedly pounds this negative stereotype that women over the age of 70 are supposed to be boring, and then uses this unflattering perception as a flimsy plot device that’s not only stupid but it’s also offensive. The entire terrible premise of “Mack & Rita” is that any woman over the age of 70 who is not boring is the exception and probably does things that deserve to have people laughing at her because she’s supposed to be “too old” to do those things.

Mack’s body transformation happens as body transformations do in dimwitted and lazy movies: by a force of nature that is never explained in the movie. Mack sees a pop-up tent near the restaurant. The tent is advertising New Age type of services with the slogan “Regress and be blessed” written on a makeshift sign.

Out of curiosity, Mack goes in the tent and finds a spaced-out wannabe guru named Luka (played by Simon Rex, in an awful, hammy performance), who tells her to lie down in a run-down-looking tanning bed and think of any wish that she wants to come true. Mack wishes exactly what you think she wishes: “I want to be Grammie Martin!” Mack also shouts, “I’m a 70-year-old woman trapped in a body of a 30-year-old who just needs a minute to rest!”

Wind gusts suddenly appear in the tanning bed like a mini-tornado. And when Mack emerges from the tanning bed, she’s horrified to see that she now looks like an elderly version of herself (played by Keaton), so the expected hysterical skrieking ensues. Luka suddenly is nowhere to be found to change Mack back into her “normal” self. Luka’s disappearance is just the movie’s way of stretching out the excruciatingly bad scenarios that Mack experiences as the elderly version of herself.

While still adjusting to the shock of her body transformation, Mack shows up at the borrowed house in Palm Springs, where Carla predictably thinks Mack is an intruder. But once Mack proves to Carla that she really is Mack—just trapped in a 70-year-old body—Carla easily accepts everything like it’s not that big of a deal. “Mack & Rita” is so poorly written, the bachelorette party is never shown, and Carla is never seen having a conversation with her groom-to-be (whose name is never mentioned in the movie), even though there’s a plot development involving the wedding rehearsal dinner. The groom is never seen talking and has a brief “blink and you’ll miss it” appearance where he’s seen with Carla in a car.

Expect to see a silly montage of Carla and “elderly” Mack doing various things to try to make Mack look younger, such as going to a rigorous fitness trainer (just an excuse to put Keaton and her stunt double in awkward physical positions) or beauty salons, as if putting on some skin cream will somehow make Mack look younger. And there are the usual pratfalls and “I’m too old for this” clumsiness from “elderly” Mack, because the movie wants to make it hilarious to laugh at elderly people who might have physical limitations. It’s all so witless and tiresome.

In one of the movie’s worst scenes, “elderly” Mack takes Carla’s advice to drink psychedelic mushrooms with some tea. It leads to a very unfunny scenario of Mack hallucinating, with very cheap-looking visual effects used in the movie. Mack’s hallucinations include thinking that her dog is talking to her. Martin Short is the voice of the dog in this scene. It’s a good thing that Short isn’t on camera, thereby sparing him the humiliation of being seen in this horrendous dreck.

And who exactly is the “Rita” in “Mack & Rita”? When “elderly” Mack goes back to her apartment, she lies to Jack and says that she is Mack’s aunt Rita. The lie is that Rita (who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona) and Mack decided to do an apartment exchange while Mack is in Scottsdale for a writer’s retreat. Jack is a little taken by surprise by Rita, but because he doesn’t know Mack and her family very well, he easily believes this lie.

It’s the same lie that’s told to Carla’s outspoken and meddling mother Sharon and Sharon’s three nosy best friends: cranky Betty (played by Lois Smith), jolly Carol (played by Amy Hill) and sarcastic Angela (played by Wendie Malick), who are all the wine-guzzling, gossipy old lady stereotypes that make “Mack & Rita” such a trite and insulting portrayal of older women. Betty is the one who owns the house in Palm Springs. Sharon is an openly queer woman who divorced her husband (Carla’s father), and then married a woman, who is now deceased. The only reason this information about Sharon’s love life is in the movie is to make Sharon a negative stereotype of an elderly woman who’s bitter about not currently having a love partner.

The younger female characters in the movie aren’t much better when it comes to shallow clichés, except for Carla, who is the only one who comes across as having a believable personality and a life that doesn’t revolve around envying other people or gossiping about them. (Paige, who’s stuck in the thankless role as Carla, sometimes looks like she knows she’s in a bad movie, but perhaps she needed the money.) Mack as a 30-year-old is just insufferably ignorant, and it doesn’t help that Lail gives the worst performance in the cast. Luckily, the 30-year-old Mack doesn’t have much screen time, compared to 70-year-old Mack/Rita whose depiction is appalling enough.

Far from making the “elderly” Mack/Rita look stylish, the substandard costume design for the “elderly” Mack/Rita consists of mostly ill-fitting (usually too large) embarrassments. Who in their right mind thinks anyone looks good in an oversized plaid blazer paired with an oversized polka dot A-line skirt? But there “elderly” Mack/Rita is, wearing one of these many clownish-looking outfits in “Mack & Rita.”

Everything about “Mack & Rita” looks like an outdated sitcom that was rejected decades ago. It’s also a fake feminist film. If Mack gets a “happy ending” (her romance with Jack; finding Luka to turn her back to her “normal” self), it’s all dependent on getting a man to like her. Mack shows no real independence or personal growth. The romance in this movie is as dull as dull can be.

“Mack & Rita” is just a series of abysmal slapstick scenes and forced, terrible scenarios where people are supposed to laugh at the sight of a woman in her 70s doing things that younger people usually do—and she gets mocked for it in one way or another. Making an entire movie about putting an elderly woman in humiliating situations is not amusing. It’s misogynistic. Movie audiences and someone with Keaton’s caliber of talent deserve so much better.

Gravitas Premiere released “Mack & Rita” in U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022.

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