Film Review:Diane Keaton’s “Mack & Rita” Should Have Stayed on the Cutting Room Floor

Diane Keaton as Rita, (formerly Mack) in MACK & RITA, now in general release. Photo courtesy of Rhea Films (II)
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At the Movies With…
Beverly Cohn Editor-at-Large

Diane Keaton is one of Hollywood’s long-standing treasures. This award-winning actor has given dozens of brilliant, memorable performances. A few that come to mind include her seminal role as Kate in “The Godfather,” (I, II, and III) “Annie Hall,” “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Sleeper,” “Manhattan,” “Reds,” “The First Wives Club,” “The Family Stone” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” and “Something’s Gotta Give”.

Poster Courtesy of Rhea Films (II)  

I will never forget the scene following her breakup with the Jack Nicholson character where she’s writing the last chapter of her book – wailing, crying, and using mounds of tissues to wipe off the tears running down her face. Her stage work is equally impressive scoring her first major role in “Hair,” and eventually was cast in Woody Allen’s Broadway play, “Play It Again Sam.” Her nuanced characterizations, along with her signature fashion look of hats, scarves, and high-neck blouses, coupled with her “Keatonesque” mannerisms and megawatt winning smile, has made her one of the most loved and respected performers.

Elizabeth Lail as Mack in “MACK & RITA” produced by Diane Keaton and directed by Katie Aselton.  
Photo courtesy of Rhea Films (II)

That is the Diane Keaton I was looking forward to seeing in her latest film, “Mack & Rita” but alas could only find glimpses of her, thanks to a poorly written script by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh and equally poor direction by Katie Aselton. It was doomed from the beginning. Here’s the story line for what it’s worth: Mack, played reasonably well by Elizabeth Lail, is a 30-something frustrated writer who has published short stories about her late grammie Martin, nicely done by Catherine Carlen.

Diane Keaton (center) as Rita becomes a spokesperson for older woman in MACK & RITA, directed by Katie Aselton.  
Photo courtesy of Rhea Films (II)

Although Mack is the same age as her friends, she forces herself to fit in but feels that she’s a 70-something trapped in her younger body and is more in tune with her grandmother’s spirit than that of her contemporaries. She goes along to get along and participates in the Palm Springs bachelorette weekend for her bestie, Carla, nicely done by Taylour Paige, who delivers one of the genuine performance vs. the rest of the friends, who are generally just cardboard cutouts. It is during that weekend, nicely captured by cinematographer Sean McElwee, that Mack stumbles upon a “new age” tent and complains to Luka the guru (Simon Rex) that she’s in an age warp. He offers her a past life experience and encourages her to climb into his “regression pod,” which is actually just a decorated tanning bed. The top
closes and suddenly lights spin and flash, lighting cracks, and wind fills the tent. At the end of that silliness, Mack emerges and presto she is her older self and thus we are introduced to Keaton’s Aunt Rita. It should be noted that one of the many failures of this script is that Rita actually bears no personality
resemblance to her younger self and is clearly just Diane Keaton, which almost 100% of the time would be enough. Rita now makes her way back to the house where her friends are all staying and has to convince Carla that she is really Mack. They concoct a story that this is Mack’s aunt from Arizona where her “niece” is currently working. In short order, Rita becomes a role model for older women. She joins a women’s wine club, which meets nightly. (Lois Smith, Aimee Carrero, and Wendie Malick.) By and by Rita, spurred
on by Patti Harrison as her caustic agent, becomes an Instagram sensation and a spokesperson for empowering older women. With a good part of the film being cringe-worthy, there are two particularly terrible scenes: One takes place on the beach where Nicole Byer is leading a breathing workshop
culminating from Rita’s awkward movements to her long, gray wig being set afire (not funny). The other embarrassment is in a Pilates class where she struggles with using the chords on the reformer. It wasn’t amusing and if one of the points of the film was to empower older women, this was actually a put-
down. Mack has sort of a would-be love interest in her neighbor Jack, who acts as her dog sitter when she’s on the road. Honestly played by Dustin Milligan, you might surmise that attraction spills over to Rita and is interestingly handled. Perhaps with a better script and a more talented director, this could have actually empowered older women but alas, it just makes us look like a bunch of incompetent fools.

I understand producing a film to create an acting vehicle and if it works, it’s perfectly acceptable. Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood are consummate examples of wearing two hats and just about never fail both as both producers and characters in their films. Wearing two hats necessitates moving from the objective (producer) to the subjective (character) and both of these icons produced, directed, and starred in an impressive body of films. In the case of our dear Ms. Keaton, perhaps that money should have been
used for a vehicle more in tune with her extraordinary talent which director Aselton sorely misused.

Director: Katie Aselton
Writers: Madeline Walter, Paul Welsh
Production Company: Rhea Films (II)
Producers: Alex Saks, Diane Keaton, Stephanie Heaton-Harris,
Dori Rath & JinaPanebianco
Cinematographer: Sean McElwee
Editor: Michael A. Webber
Music: Leo Birenberg
Language: English
Genre: Dramedy
Running Time: 95 minutes
Rating: PG-13
In General Release


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