Mack (Elizabeth Lail), one of two title characters in “Mack & Rita,” feels the opposite. Raised by her stylish grandmother (Catherine Carlen), Mack feels like, as she puts it, a 70-year-old in the body of a 30-year-old woman. She’s tired of high heels and staying up late and a lifestyle fueled by a vaguely successful career as an author: Her one book did well; she’s now stuck on a second. When she travels with her girlfriends for a bachelorette weekend and they all want to see Bad Bunny perform in a walk-in fridge, Mack opts to check out a sketchy past-life regression thingummy set up on the side of the road. The experience magically ages her 40 years; now played by Diane Keaton, she passes herself off as her own aunt Rita. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when her career takes off, as the fabulous “Rita” steals hearts, minds and Instagram likes.
At this point, you can pretty much Mad Lib the rest of the script for yourself: There’s zaniness, a touching lesson and so on. The biggest source of tension is the (admittedly good) sexual-ish banter between Keaton and Mack’s neighbor Jack (Dustin Milligan of “Schitt’s Creek”).
For the most part, Rita still has to navigate a world built for the young. When Mack’s agent — unaware of Mack’s transformation — assigns her to go to a “Pilates for All Bodies” event, all the bodies are young, female and thin. (If Keaton, who is 76, did her own stunt work on those machines, kudos to her. She performs moves that could snap most people in half.) Rita finds her people in a women’s book club — more like a wine club with a book habit — portrayed by a powerhouse of older actresses, including Wendie Malick, Loretta Devine, Lois Smith and Amy Hill. It’s there, of course, that she learns that getting confidently older is a gift, but also a reward for the work of your youth. Her new friends also point out that you can, in fact, choose to quit wearing high heels in your 30s. Elastic waistbands and afternoon naps for all!
It’s wonderful to see older women on-screen. It’s wonderful to see getting older presented as something a younger woman wants to do, even if she doesn’t really understand what comes with it: knee pain, weird pokey hairs on your chin, getting those pill organizers with “AM” and “PM” written on them — and more knee pain. But “Mack & Rita” just can’t sell that message. Keaton, who can be so, so funny, seems at a loss as to what to do. The short script by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh is stuffed with filler. At one point, Rita does magic mushrooms to try to turn back into the younger Mack (which doesn’t seem like a great solution, and we all know where the story is going to end anyway). The members of the book club are uniformly great, and Milligan is genial enough in a generic way, but the standout performance belongs to Taylour Paige (“Zola”) as Mack’s best friend, Carla. She brings nuance and a spark of life to a wholly underwritten character.
“Mack & Rita” feels, paradoxically, both too short and overlong. It could have examined the theme of aging much more deeply. Alternatively, it might have made a nice short film about a young person who becomes a senior citizen for a night. As it is, it’s a story that doesn’t need to be told and isn’t told very well. (Never mind that Mack doesn’t just want to be old — she wants to be old, healthy and rich.) And there’s no mention of the retirement plan the book club gals must have to maintain their “glamma” aesthetic.
After the movie, I texted my own mom, who’s in her 70s, to ask what she likes about getting older. “I don’t give a s--- what people think,” she replied. (This is the same woman who wouldn’t let me say “butt” growing up.) Maybe she’s onto something. After all, she ditched her high heels decades ago. And maybe she’d like “Mack & Rita.” If so, more power to her. As for the rest of us? There are better ways to waste your youth.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains some drug use, sexual references and strong language. 95 minutes.