This review was originally published on 8/12/22.
Sometimes, a movie comes out of nowhere and surprises the heck out of you. Mack & Rita finds itself in the unenviable position of being a small film smashed in the middle of big-budget summertime. It’s ever so slightly a remake with marketing bordering on the “blink, and you’ll miss it” variety. With that said … it’s easy to miss. I won’t lie. Sitting down, I had preconceived notions about this Diane Keaton vehicle. Did this sweet little comedy rise above my expectations? Well, read on, kids. Read on.
Mack & Rita follows the story of a writer (Elizabeth Lail). She’s 30 and flirty. At least, that’s what society tells her she should be. In a feeling yours truly understands far too well, she’s always felt like an older woman trapped in a young woman’s body. We learn early her grandmother raised her and something about being “an old gal” fits with her personality. It works so well Mack never quite figured out that whole being “young” thing.
One day, while visiting Palm Springs for her best friend’s (Taylour Paige) bridal shower, Mack visits a new age, past life regression pod. Unfortunately, it works too well, and she emerges as Rita (Keaton). She finally has her wish. She’s 70. However, Mack quickly starts to wonder, is this what she wants? Professional and romantic complications abound as she learns what she truly desires in life. Loretta Devine, Dustin Milligan, Simon Rex, Wendie Malick, Amy Hill and Lois Smith costar in the movie. Katie Aselton directs Mack & Rita from a script by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh.
Okay, you probably heard it too. It isn’t spoiling anything to mention Mack & Rita sounds more than a bit like Big in slightly different packaging. In truth, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. It’s a rare instance when I pull my punches when discussing remakes. I dare say I was skeptical. However, Mack & Rita wastes no time pulling away from its influences.
As the narrative takes shape, I found myself smitten. As a toddler who watched John Wayne movies and found my way to The Beatles by the third grade before discovering Frank Sinatra in seventh grade … this movie saw me. I felt seen. Mack & Rita gets us “old souls.” This is a movie that understands not only its characters but its message.
The film drops the audience into the story with the titular Mack (Lail) as an entry point. We quickly learn about her past and her “old lady” yearnings. However, Walter and Walsh’s script never judges Mack, even at the movie’s beginning. At most, the narrative is primarily guilty of playing up her desire to be old with a little too much force. However, we learn early on Mack tried to “fit in” and do what was expected of her as a 20-something.
Unfortunately, it’s not her. It doesn’t fit. Her insecurity hits close to home. Where is the line between “fitting in” and being a “team player” versus being true to yourself? Yet as Rita thrives into the second act, the movie doesn’t judge her either. The film casts dilemmas for these women, which are real, human and thoroughly believable.
Diane Keaton’s Rita emerges as a life goal. One of our living legends of the big screen, Diane Keaton is always her fabulous self and refuses to shy away from that. She showed audiences this when she came on the scene in movies like The Godfather and Annie Hall, and almost 50 years later, she’s still wowing us. Her costumes here (credited to Allyson B. Fanger) are delightful.
Even more enjoyable is Keaton’s chemistry with the literal boy-next-door Jack (Milligan). Milligan is familiar to most thanks to six years as the adorable Ted on Schitt’s Creek. Delightfully, the actor brings the same bright likability to this role. Like Ted, Jack is easy to love. By the way, we need more Dustin Milligan on the big screen; thank you very much.
While the narrative never labels their relationship, Jack and Rita’s sweet chemistry dominates much of the second act. I was surprised by how much space the story gives the narrative. Their bond steps beyond friendship thanks to the sheer magnetism of their chemistry. It’s not quite romantic, but it’s not platonic, either. However, what remains true is it feels relaxed and easy. As things take shape, it’s easy to be excited for Rita.
Mack & Rita is a rock-solid vehicle for Diane Keaton. Elizabeth Lail, unfortunately, gets the short end of the metaphorical stick. She bookends the film, but by the very structure of the plot, Mack doesn’t get the opportunity to find her footing. She’s the main character (in that she exists), but we spend more time with Rita. This isn’t to call Lail bad in the film; she doesn’t have much to do.
The depth of the Mack & Rita supporting cast was a delightful surprise. This is particularly true in the case of Rita’s friends (Devine, Malick and Smith.) Malick is a standout anytime she’s on screen, and the same is true of Smith as a nonagenarian who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
The women (of course) exist to convey the narrative’s central message — you have to learn to love yourself. They also are there to remind us that getting old sucks. However, they take what could be relatively thin roles, find the humor and sell every moment they’re on-screen. The same is true for Simon Rex. The actor takes what amounts to little more than a cameo and carves out a memorable character as the “new agey” Luka. Together, this ensemble gels into a unit and injects so much heart into this coming-of-age story.
Mack & Rita may look a bit like a rehash of Big on the surface. However, there’s a lot more to this sweet little movie. The story’s message gels smoothly with the performances, resulting in genuine heart. If you identify as an “old soul,” this gentle comedy is a summertime must-see. It goes down nice and easy. Fans of this talented cast should also add this to their lists, particularly Keaton and anyone who considered themselves “Team Ted” while watching Schitt’s Creek.
Mack & Rita opens in movie theaters around the country starting August 12.
Check out our other movie reviews here!