Diane Keaton has had a wonderful 52-year career and she has shown no sign of slowing down. Granted, the movies from this current stage of her career haven’t been great. But I love that she’s still working and doing what she enjoys. And that brings us to her new film in theaters this weekend, “Mack & Rita”. I would love to talk about how the movie serves as a fresh reminder of Keaton’s terrific comedic chops. But unfortunately I can’t because “Mack & Rita” turns out to be a well-intentioned but surprisingly bland and flavorless comedy. And while it’s nice to see Keaton on screen, this won’t be listed among the movies she’ll be remembered for.
Directed by Katie Aselton and co-written by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh, “Mack & Rita” never feels like its own thing. Instead it comes across as a collection of ideas plucked from other movies that are snapped together and given a title. There’s really nothing original about the story and there’s not a single surprise. In fact, you’ll have the entire plot mapped out within the first 15 minutes. It’s a shame because the movie sports a talented cast. But without good material, they’re left out to dry.
Following the lead of other ‘stuck-in-the-wrong-body’ movies like “13 Going on 30” and “Big”, this story centers on 30-year-old Mack (Elizabeth Lail), an Instagram influencer and aspiring writer. Mack was raised by her beloved grandmother who was always outgoing and very comfortable in her own wonderfully eccentric skin. Max wanted to be just like her, but as she got older she suppressed her own individuality in order to fit in. You could say it worked. She got invited to all the parties and made some popular new friends. But she did it without being true to her “inner old lady”.
Professionally, Mack feels stuck in neutral. She’s published her first novel and is excited to start writing again. But rather than helping her secure an advance for a new book, all she gets from her not-so-encouraging agent (Patti Harrison) are menial jobs taking photos at publicity events and posting them on social media. Socially, she would rather spend her time home alone with her dog, working on her book and dodging her overly chatty and clearly smitten neighbor Jack (Dustin Milligan). But even now she’s still living up to the expectations of others.
While on a bachelorette getaway in Palm Springs for her bride-to-be best friend Carla (Taylour Paige), Mack happens upon the tent of a self-proclaimed spiritual guru named Luca (Simon Rex) who specializes in past-life regression therapy. He places her in a contraption called a regression pod (which is nothing more than a glorified tanning bed) and begins their session. Once the pod sputters to a stop, Luca is gone and Mack steps out in the body of her 70-year-old self (played by Keaton). High-jinks and self-discovery ensues.
From there the story veers into more conventional territory. We get the expected shock and panic as Mack tries to grasp her wacky new circumstances. But when she begins posing as her own fictitious Aunt Rita, Mack discovers the carefree spirit her grandmother embodied. Her new zest for life takes her from hanging out with Carla’s mom (Loretta Devine) and the ladies from her women’s wine club to becoming a social media sensation known as the “Glammy Granny” (yep, you read that right).
Now before coming down too hard on “Mack & Rita”, it should be said it’s a very self-aware movie. It’s knowingly silly and unapologetically lighthearted. There’s nothing wrong with that. Also, it has a handful of good moments, particularly in the few times where it slows down and lets its characters breathe. And who can argue with its message of accepting yourself and staying true to who you are?
But that doesn’t make the unfunny and uninspired stuff go away. When it comes to the comedy and the storytelling, the movie is loaded with misfires. There’s the cringe-worthy slapstick, one awkwardly bad drug trip scene, and several scenarios that are too absurd to swallow. You also have a weirdly out-of-tune romantic angle with Rita and Jack. And then there’s the finish which spells out the themes in detail just in case you missed them.
Combine all of that with the already mentioned predictability and complete lack of originality, and we’re left with a movie that really does nothing for anyone involved. Especially for someone with the cinematic stature of Diane Keaton. “Mack & Rita” is out now in theaters.