Mack & Rita is like a body-swap comedy, only with an air of self-fulfillment and confused messaging about old age. How exactly does one squander the indomitable talents of this terrific ensemble cast, let alone the lead stars both playing each other, Diane Keaton and Elizabeth Lail? Co-written by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh (Trent in CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and directed by Katie Aselton (Black Rock), Mack & Rita is too saccharine and childish to hit the mark. However, when it works, I had a smile on my face, even fleetingly.
For her entire life, Mack (Lail, Netflix’s You, Countdown) has felt like an old woman in a young body. Raised by her awesome grandma, Mack is now a bit aimless in the interim between her first semi-successful book as a writer, and the mounting pressure she is putting on herself for a follow-up. “No one reads anymore,” her agent insists, shortly after announcing that her newest book proposal has been rejected. Attending the bachelorette party for her bestie, Carla (Taylour Paige, Zola, Sharp Stick), may be just the thing Mack needs to get out of her funk. Mack leaves her charming little dog, Cheesy, with adorkably sweet Jack (Dustin Milligan, Shark Night 3D, Schitt’s Creek), her hot neighbor, and heads off for Palm Springs!
Mack doesn’t really gel with the rest of Carla’s friends. When they arrive in Palm Springs, Mack is more obsessed with the vintage clothes in the closets than her actual trip. She observes that old people have things figured out, spotting two gals eating toast and laughing together. Before long, the crew settles in for a long day of fun in the sun. Carla gives Mack permission to go off and do her own thing after Mack spots Luka’s Blessed Be Past Life Regression over near the beach. What she hopes will be a calm and spiritual visit ends up changing her life forever. Guru Luka (Simon Rex, Red Rocket, Scary Movie 3) muses that “Mercury must be in Gatorade,” and offers up mumbo jumbo about revisiting one’s past life. At the conclusion of the tanning booth-set procedure, Mack awakens in the body of her 70-year-old self, now played by Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give, Mad Money)!
From this point is when the real comedy should be at play, but Mack in her new body barely seems phased to the level a normal person would. She had adoration for her elders anyway, so why would she be opposed to literally becoming one? Mack manages to convince Carla of her identity, but for everyone else, she now becomes simply Mack’s Aunt Rita. Under the guise of an apartment swap, Rita claims that Mack is using Rita’s place as her own personal writer’s retreat. A romance is hatched between Jack and Rita, and it seems that Mack can finally live true to her own veritable tastes as Rita fits in with all the elderly ladies (including the legendary Loretta Divine of Urban Legend fame), and manages to obtain sponsors that Mack never could! Still, Rita tirelessly tries to find a way to transform back to her younger self to end the charade once and for all.
The issue here is not that Mack & Rita is truly an awful, trash film. Rather, it has so much potential with a zany premise and a cast ready to gobble up whatever is thrown their way that it only serves to make what is delivered significantly more underwhelming than one would anticipate. The story never accounts for much personal growth for Mack, content to bask in the rom-com vibes by matching up Diane Keaton with Dustin Milligan. There is minimal conflict and an unsatisfying conclusion overall, but some fun is had with the occasional chuckle, or the interestingly-matched chemistry between Keaton and Milligan. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing, but I have no doubt Mack & Rita will find its audience that shall delight in wig-burning mishaps and jumbo shrimp party mixers!
Mack & Rita skips 40 years ahead when it debuts in theaters on Friday, August 12th.