Coming of age isn’t just for the teens. As we see in Mack & Rita— Gravitas Ventures new comedy in theaters Aug. 12— it sometimes happens when you’re 30. And only first by living for some time as a 70-year-old.
Directed by Katie Aselton, the film follows author Mack Martin (Elizabeth Lail) who has always felt different from her friends. She was raised by her grandmother and enamored by her grandma’s cool old gal charisma— so much so she was inspired to write a book based on her that was wildly successful. Now not only is Mack stuck figuring out her identity, but she’s stuck figuring out her next big book idea.
Everything changes for Mack when she goes to a bachelorette party weekend in Palm Springs for her best friend and returns home to Los Angeles as a 70-year-old woman (Diane Keaton). In addition to Lail and Keaton, the movie features Taylour Paige, Simox Rex, Dustin Milligan, Patti Harrison and Martin Short.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, Aselton spoke with LA Confidential about the unmatched authenticity of Diane Keaton, directing a comedy for the first time and the importance of supporting women-led films.
This is your first time directing a comedic film. Was your experience different from your past directing work?
It was honestly a lot more fun. It was so much more fun than directing a murdery, rapey story or like a story about a marriage that isn't working and this was just delightful and fun to find the laughs and find the funny and work on on just tightening it as much as you could.
Do sunny settings like Palm Springs and Los Angeles make it helpful to capture the vibrance that’s important for stories like Mack & Rita?
We shot so much on the Eastside and downtown in Los Angeles and it's so bright and vivid and colorful. There really is so much of a visual aspect to this story of a girl who is afraid to take any chances and so she's living a very safe, bland life and then as she starts becoming more comfortable in her own skin, you see more color and more texture and more vibrancy. And it was really fun to lean into that and Los Angeles definitely supports that.
What was it like working with Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh to translate their story for the screen?
It was really fun. This is the first time I've done a movie that was written by someone else and I think it is so great to have those voices, especially in a movie that has as many characters as this, and to have more cooks in the kitchen. Giving different perspectives and different voices to the characters is so imperative to the fabric of what the movie becomes. And they're terribly funny. It was almost a problem.
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What was it like working with Diane Keaton and working with her to channel the energy of a present day 30 year old?
My instinct was to make a bad joke there and be like, “Why does everyone keep asking me about Diane Keaton?” It was utterly surreal to to show up to work every day and be like, “I'm directing Diane Keaton in a motion picture.” It was wild, but it was also such a great experience because Diane is so thoroughly Diane. Through and through, she is just one of the most authentic people I've ever met in my life, which is why she was so great for this movie. Diane is just unapologetically herself and is so fantastic. And so what you know of Diane, what we know as audience members who have fallen in love with her for decades, is exactly what you get from Diane. She is exactly who we have seen on screen, which is quirky and fun and goofy and vulnerable and insecure and kooky and like all of these things with a beautiful heart wrapped up into one. She's also incredibly childlike, so all of these physically comedic mannerisms that she took on, those were all her.
I can't imagine anyone else playing this role. Diane has become the face of coastal grandmother, but I think the reality is Nancy Meyers is coastal grandmother. Diane Keaton is nothing but Diane Keaton.
We can all emulate that, but she alone can only pull off the Diane Keaton. And by the way, Diane Keaton would never be caught dead walking the streets in white linen, elastic waistband pants. That is not her at all. She is who ultimately Rita is. She was our inspiration board for the character of Rita because she's just always marched to the beat of her own drum. And it's what we love about her.
Tell us about filming the scene where Mack does the past life regression, which causes the body transformation. What was it like working with Elizabeth Lail to capture Mack’s breakdown about her life and epiphany that she just wants to be a 70-year-old woman?
It was really fun to work with Paul and Madeline on that scene and build what that breakdown is. Because as a woman, it's all those things that bubble up in us.
The amount of outtakes we had on this and we would all just be throwing her lines. And mine was like, “I'm so sick of high waisted pants that are so tight and constrictive. They mess with my digestive system. I am so sick of wearing an underwire bra.” You can start going on these things and as you're on a tear, it is truly like a volcanic reaction. And so Elizabeth knew exactly what that should be and would feel like and completely connected to it on a spiritual level as well and just went there. Honestly, it was really just about having it crescendo at the right time.
What message drives the story of Mack & Rita?
Ultimately, I think the line “living your truest self at any age” is great because it's why it was fun as a filmmaker in my mid 40s to make this movie because I feel like I have one foot in with the 30-year-olds and I can so deeply connect with the insecurities and the self-doubt and the criticism and just what we do to ourselves at that stage of our lives. And then I feel like I have one foot in with the older women and I'm starting to really step into my own and be cool with who I am and love who I am and stop trying to shoehorn myself into a mold that was never meant for me.
I love the idea of telling my daughters that they are enough and what makes them unique is their superpowers. And I love the idea of looking at my mom's generation and saying, “Go to the movies. I want you to see this. Keep living your life. Keep living your best life.” There is no expiration date on that. Let's just fill it to the brim and and go hard until the end.
What I would love to achieve with a great opening weekend with this movie is to show that women-lead vehicles and movies starring women of a certain age have a place in the world because we're all still living and we're all still active participants and there's an audience for it. We need to support movies like this. Movies like Bullet Train are going to be just fine without us, but it's movies like this that are led by women, starring women— particularly older women— and directed by women that really need the support. And we need to show the powers that be that movies like this can not only work, but they can hit and really find their audience because I think the audiences are there.
The body-switch is seen in a number of beloved movies, like Big, 13 Going on 30 and Freaky Friday. Why do you think audiences routinely enjoy these sorts of stories?
I think the device of using body switching as a genre, as a storytelling device is really helpful in teaching the lesson without feeling like you're guarding something. It's a great way to show two sides of one coin or two perspectives without it getting preachy in there. And I think there is something fun about the contrast in all of the things and I also think it shines a light on the fact that we all still feel all the things. We feel old and young and like we're just starting and we're at the end of our rope. We hold all of these things at the same time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: David Higgs