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.

Review: ‘Spell’ (2020), starring Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine

October 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Omari Hardwick in “Spell” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Spell” (2020)

Directed by Mark Tonderai

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the rural Appalachian area of West Virginia, the horror flick “Spell” has a predominantly African American cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the poor, middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a plane crash, an attorney who’s a family man finds himself held captive by a hoodoo priestess who uses body parts for her potions.

Culture Audience: “Spell” will appeal primarily to people who like to see gory movies with voodoo/hoodoo themes, but the movie has too many dumb plot holes to be considered a quality story.

Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine in “Spell” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The horror movie “Spell” has an interesting social theme that is rarely seen in narrative films: The class divide and prejudices that can exist between African Americans who are upper-middle-class and African Americans who have less financial advantages. Unfortunately, this theme, which could have made “Spell” a more interesting film, is squandered and buried in order to go to down yet another predictable and gory horror path. Even the suspenseful scenes are badly handled with plot holes that ruin any credibility that “Spell” hoped to have.

Directed by Mark Tonderai and written by Kurt Wimmer, “Spell” begins with the introduction of the family who will be involved in the fateful plane crash that sets off this movie’s horror. Marquis T. Woods (played by Omari Hardwick) is a successful corporate attorney working in an unnamed big city in the United States. He’s well-respected by his boss Wyman Thatcher (played by Andrew Jacobs) at the law firm.

Marquis is a very tough and very competitive lawyer who doesn’t let the fact that he’s African American get in the way of wanting to win a case if the opponents are also African American. During a conversation between Wyman and Marquis, they discuss a class-action lawsuit where the plaintiffs are African American and the plaintiffs’ attorneys are white. The law firm that Marquis works for is representing the defendants in the lawsuit, and Marquis is the lead attorney in the case.

The exact details of the lawsuit aren’t revealed in the story, but it’s implied that it has to do with accusations of racial discrimination. In other words, Marquis doesn’t really care if people might think of him of being a “race traitor” for representing the defendants in this case. He just wants to win.

He might be a ruthless attorney in the courtroom, but at home, Marquis is a loving and loyal family man with a disciplinarian streak and hints of being a control freak. The movie opens with a somewhat odd scene of Marquis’ wife Veora Woods (played by Lorraine Burroughs) accidentally locked in their bedroom. She pleads with Marquis, who’s on the other side of the door, to break down the door and let her out. He refuses because he says the door cost $1,500.

As a prank, Marquis pretends that he can’t do anything to help her, and he says that he’s going to call a locksmith. It could take more than an hour for a locksmith to come over and break the lock and then replace it. Veora says she doesn’t have that kind of time.

After some more begging and pleading from Veora, Marquis finally puts Veora out of her misery and uses a pin to unlock the door. She rushes out with relief, but she’s slightly irritated that Marquis would put her in this uncomfortable situation as a joke. It shows a manipulative side to Marquis that may not be violent, but it demonstrates how he might get some pleasure out of seeing people squirm.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Marquis has an abusive past. When he was a child, his father often beat, tortured and emotionally abused Marquis, who is so haunted by these memories that he still has nightmares about the abuse. (In flashback scenes, Ri-Karlo Handy plays Marquis’ father, while twins Bodhi Tonderai-Hodges and Sahara Tonderai-Hodges portray Marquis as a child.)

Marquis also grew up very poor in the Appalachian area of West Virginia. It’s a past that he left behind 25 years ago and doesn’t want to go back to anytime soon. Marquis hasn’t lied about his personal history of growing up poor and abused, but he’d rather forget that it happened. And it fuels his drive to be as wealthy and successful as possible.

That’s why he’s instilled in his teenage kids—son Tydon “Ty” Woods (played by Kalifa Burton) and daughter Samsara “Sam” Woods (played by Hannah Gonera)—who are both in their mid-teens, a strong sense of wanting them to become high achievers. But with that ambition also comes a certain snobbery where Sam and especially Ty look down on people who are poor and unsophisticated. Ty doesn’t hesitate to call other black people the “n” word if he thinks they’re of a lower class than he is. When Veora hears Ty use this racial slur, she scolds him and tells him that she doesn’t want him to use that language.

In another scene, Veora tells Marquis in front of their kids that she’s worried about the children turning into entitled jerks. Marquis responds by saying, “If I had my way, your son and daughter will spend their lives in a boardroom, not in some jungle I couldn’t get out of fast enough.” Veora says, “Except sometimes, Marq, that jungle comes back to find you, no matter what boardroom you’re hiding in.”

This conversation takes place on a private single-engine, four-seat plane that Marquis is piloting, with Veora, Ty and Sam as the passengers. They are on the plane because Marquis has been notified that his father has died, and the family is going to back to Marquis’ hometown in West Virginia for the funeral and to take care of some other matters related to the death.

Marquis makes a pit stop in a rural area at a small-strip gas station with a convenience store. An elderly man (played by Leo Wringer) who works at the gas station and a young man (played by Tafara Nyatsanza) who happens to be there too are exactly the type of “country” African Americans who make Marquis and Ty uncomfortable. Ty doesn’t do much to hide his condescension, while these two local men think that Marquis and his family are stuck-up city folks.

Marquis and his family aren’t at the gas station for long, when the local sheriff (played by Tumisho Masha) pulls up to find out why this small plane has landed in his jurisdiction. Marquis reminds the sheriff that it’s legal for him to land there, since it’s a single-engine plane. Marquis also shows his pilot license and tells the sheriff why they’re at the gas station. The sheriff is friendly but a little wary of these newcomers.

After the plane is back in the air, a massive storm hits and the plane looks like it’s in danger of crashing. The crash is actually never shown in the movie. The next thing that happens is that Marquis wakes up in a bed in a house attic, with a head injury and his left foot bleeding and bandaged. Where is he and what happened to his family?

Marquis finds out that he’s being held captive at a farmhouse by a woman named Eloise (played by Loretta Devine), a demented voodoo priestess who has a dual persona of being a friendly “church lady” and a wicked witch. Her mood swings are unpredictable, but largely based on whether or not she thinks she’s in control of a situation. She can get menacing very quickly if she thinks Marquis is trying to escape.

Eloise tells Marquis that he was found in the plane crash, and she insists that no one else was with him. Marquis doesn’t quite believe her and he desperately wants to escape and find his wife and kids. Eloise, who calls herself a “root worker,” says that she doesn’t believe in a lot of technology and inventions, such as phones, computers, radios and television.

The rest of the movie is basically a series of attempted escapes by Marquis, who finds out that Eloise uses body parts (human and animal) for her potions and spells. She tells Marquis she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a hoodoo doll that she has made from his skin and blood. She blows powdered potion in Marquis’ face to drug him. And later, Marquis witnesses a revival meeting with Eloise working her magic on some local people with disabilities.

Ms. Eloise has two accomplices who help her keep Marquis captive on her run-down farm: Earl (played by John Beasley), who seems to be Eloise’s love partner/common-law-husband, and a hulking handyman named Lewis (played by Steve Mululu), who looks like he’s strong enough to permanently injure someone with his bare hands. Miss Eloise says of Lewis, “People think he’s slow, but there’s nothing slow about him.”

Later, when Marquis asks Eloise if she really believes in the hoodoo that she practices, she responds in an irritated tone, “I guess I have to. We don’t have much in the way of Obamacare around here.” She also responds to Marquis’ obvious condescension toward her beliefs and lifestyle: “You a city boy. You better than all of this.”

There are a few moments where “Spell” goes from being a mildly interesting horror movie to being a disappointing dud with too many plot holes to ignore. The first big nonsensical moment comes when Marquis gets a chance to run away and escape, but instead he sticks around to watch one of Eloise’s revival gatherings. The second and more improbable scenario that plays out is when Marquis removes a very long nail from his injured foot (the nail is so long that it would definitely destroy tendons) and then shoves it back in his foot, for reasons that are shown in the movie.

What’s ludicrous about these scenes with Marquis removing the nail and then putting it back in his foot, is that in real life, he would go into medical shock if he performed those procedures on himself and would most likely pass out from the shock and infections. And yet, he’s still able to run around (with a limp) before and after this self-surgery. It can’t be stressed enough that this is not a tiny nail. The nail is almost as long as his foot. The only reason to have these unrealistic scenes of Marquis removing the nail and slamming it back in his foot is to just have a gross-out scene that people will remember about this movie.

As for the acting in “Spell,” Devine at least seems to be having some fun hamming it up in this role as the unhinged hoodoo priestess Eloise. However, there’s absolutely no real backstory for this character (there’s only a small hint), and Eloise ends up being a generic villain after a while. In fact, all of the characters are fairly generic, as are most of the performances in this movie. There are hints of Marquis’ complicated and traumatic personal history, but any further exploration of his troubled past is largely abandoned when the rest of the story becomes about his kidnapping ordeal.

“Spell” needed to bring something fresh and creative to the story, considering that the 1990 Oscar-winning horror film “Misery” already set a gold standard for a movie about a man held captive by an evil woman who does something awful to his legs. The ending of “Spell” is very unimaginative, predictable and feels too rushed. The movie’s production design and cinematography are very effective, but the screenplay and overall direction lack the spark, cohesiveness and personality that are needed to make a better-than-average film. The good news for people turned off by “Spell” is that it’s highly unlikely to get a sequel.

Paramount Pictures released “Spell” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on October 30, 2020.

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