The Godfather, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Reds, Something's Gotta Give. These are just a few of the movies Diane Keaton must be proud to have starred in. One can only wonder how she feels about Mack & Rita. Easily one of the low points of her career, the film is astonishing in its lack of imagination. What did she see in this material? We all know actresses of a certain age unfairly have trouble getting good scripts, but is it really this bad? Watching a great actress flounder through such lunk-headed material is a disheartening experience.
Elizabeth Lail (Countdown) plays Mackenzie “Mack” Martin, a 30-year-old writer who was raised by her grandmother. She considers herself a senior citizen in a young person's body, showing no interest in the partying and revelry that her friends enjoy. During a bachelorette party getaway with best friend Carla (Zola's Taylour Paige), she skips out on a concert, choosing to try a sketchy “regression therapy" session being held inside a tent in a parking lot. The guy inside, Luka (Simon Rex), puts her into an old tanning bed, then starts spouting New Age nonsense. Something happens, and Mack emerges as her 70-year-old self, played by Keaton.
After convincing Carla of what happened, Mack assumes the identity of “Aunt Rita,” moving back into her own apartment and trying to find a way to return to her younger form. In a development that surprises her, the guy next door, Jack (Dustin Milligan), who she's been too shy to express her feelings for, finds himself attracted to Rita. Carla's mom Sharon (Loretta Devine) and her wine club members (Wendie Malick, Amy Hill, and Lois Smith) befriend Rita, too.
There are two ways to go with this concept. One is to let Mack realize that being old isn't all it's cracked up to be, in effect having her learn to appreciate youth while she has it. The other is to allow her to open up in her older form, to have her become “cool” in a way her younger self couldn't. Mack & Rita hedges its bet on both counts, having Rita improbably turn into an Instagram star, yet also constantly fret about whether it's possible to transform back to being thirty. In other words, the movie tries to go two directions simultaneously, thereby failing to execute either of them well.
The screenplay by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh is completely devoid of wit or imagination. They don't really know who Mack is, so they don't know who Rita is, either. Rather than getting rid of Mack after 20 minutes, the film needed to dive deeper into who she is. All we really learn is that she likes to be alone and often wants to rest. Those are not exactly prime “old soul” traits. Giving her more dimension would have allowed Rita to be fleshed-out, too, opening up the possibility of a meaningful revelation on her part.
Without a well-defined character arc, we're left to endure a multitude of idiotic scenes. Rita struggles to work a Pilates machine. She dances around after tripping on mushrooms. She has her hair catch on fire. Real knee-slapping stuff. Keaton attempts to enliven it by giving a big, broad performance that finds her mugging, flailing her arms, and screaming in a shrill voice. It's enough that Jerry Lewis would tell her to tone it down a little bit.
Mack & Rita wastes a lot of talented people, Diane Keaton chief among them. This is an inane, laughless movie that doesn't seem to have any point. Why anybody wanted to make it is a mystery.
out of four
Mack & Rita is rated PG-13 for some drug use, sexual references and language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.