‘Mack and Rita’ director Katie Aselton lightens up (with the help of Diane Keaton) (2024)

‘Mack and Rita’ director Katie Aselton lightens up (with the help of Diane Keaton) (1)

Credit: Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic / Getty

The buoyant, body-swap-adjacent comedy Mack and Rita is Katie Aselton’s third time directing a feature-length film. And COVID precautions aside, it was a veritable romp in the park compared to her last outing, the rape-revenge thriller Black Rock, which premiered over 10 years ago at the Sundance Film Festival. Thatwas her second film as a director, coming just two years after The Freebie, a mumblecore relationship drama she co-starred in alongside Dax Shepard. So, what took her so long to return to the helm?

At the time of Black Rock, Aselton was best known as Jenny on The League, an FX show that leaned heavily on improv and an ensemble cast of multi-hyphenates that included Aselton's husband Mark Duplass, as well as Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, and Jason Mantzoukas. In addition to her directorial duties, Aselton co-starred in Black Rock alongside Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell as a trio of longtime friends who end up in a fight for their lives during a camping trip on one of the many little islands peppering the coast of Maine. As it turns out, the grueling film shoot was just the tip of the iceberg.

"That movie really kicked the crap out of me," Aselton told Mashable via a Zoom interview. "Emotionally, physically, it was such a hard movie to make, to edit, to talk about joyfully in a press tour. It was just a really hard movie. And after that, I was like, I need a break, I just needed a little bit of mental space to recoup and recover, raise my children, take some acting jobs. But in that time and space, I really sat and thought about what kind of movies I want to make, what the messages are that I want to put out in the world, what kind of movies were important to me."

Aselton added, "[Making Black Rock], we were freezing cold and just exposed to the elements, and then editing that movie and having to watch Kate's character get killed over and over and how — 'What angle are we going to use on this?' And then in the rape scene, 'How long do we sit in the rape?' and it was just like, whew. It's heavy and dark and hard.

“And like, look, there are people who are great at making those movies," she said, "And I'm not saying I will never do that again. But I don't think I'm gonna do it anytime soon. I think truthfully, the world is hard enough as it is right now. Our reality is pretty dark. And so, I think, when given the opportunity, why not stay with the levity and lean into levity when you can?"

‘Mack and Rita’ director Katie Aselton lightens up (with the help of Diane Keaton) (2)

Credit: Courtesy of Gravitas Premiere

When friend and producer Alex Saks presented her with the script for Mack and Rita, with Diane Keaton already attached to star as Rita, Aselton wasn't convinced she was the right person to make the body-swap comedy. Aselton joked, "I make dark movies about feelings for no money."

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But of course, Mack and Rita is full of feelings — it's about being utterly dissatisfied with your life and out of step with your age group, longing to access the wisdom and self-acceptance (and the cozy caftan comfort) of being a wise elder. And although the socioeconomic reality of aging is pretty grim, especially if you’re aging in the public eye as a woman, it’s also weirdly au courant right now, thanks to Keaton herself and the "coastal grandmother" aesthetic taking TikTok by storm from coast to coast. Plus, Aselton had worked with Keaton before, in 2018's Book Club, where she and Alicia Silverstone played the grande dame's adult daughters. Who could resist?

"In the process of making this movie, [I] realized that I love living in comedy," Aselton declared. "I love making a movie with a really great heart. And I kind of, like, found my voice in this. But it's funny, because I've had to talk a lot about the journey from Freebie to Black Rock to Mack and Rita. And it does feel wild, tonally. It's all over the place."

Despite their different tones, her directorial efforts do have a common through line. "Every movie has strong women,” Aselton said. "No woman fades into the background in any of my movies. They are all the backbones of the movie. And so, I think if I'm to find a through line, it's that. But if I am just [saying], 'Where am I going from here? And what have I learned?' It's like, let's live in the light."

‘Mack and Rita’ director Katie Aselton lightens up (with the help of Diane Keaton) (3)

Credit: Courtesy of Gravitas Premiere

There is a metric ton of comedic light in Mack and Rita, starting with Elizabeth Lail from You and the new Gossip Girl as Mack. Mack's bestie Carla (who is played by Taylour Paige with an unflappable cool and admirably straight face) plays along while "Aunt Rita" charms Mack's hot neighbor Jack (Dustin Milligan of Schitt's Creek and Rutherford Falls WASPy boyfriend fame), boosts Mack's Instagram career into the stratosphere, and befriends a bevy of badass senior ladies played by an impeccable roster of actors we don't see nearly enough of: Loretta Devine, Wendie Malick, Amy Hill, and Lois Smith.

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Then there's the buzzy supporting cast, featuring Patti Harrison, Nicole Byer, and Annie Hamilton. Martin Short even lends his voice to Mack's dog, Cheese, when Mack/Rita go on a little psilocybin-aided inner journey in an attempt to return to "normal." Whatever that even is, anymore. In the end, the wisdom Mack seeks can really only be experienced by actually aging — not fast-forwarding through about 40 years of hard-won wisdom by accident after a sketchy past-life regression session in a Palm Springs parking lot, as overseen by a would-be guru played by Simon Rex (!).

As for the journey of aging and the small discoveries Mack makes as Rita — in one scene, she cringes, “I feel my bones!” — nothing compares to just, you know, aging. "You can't skip it," Aselton remarks. "Like, I would love to take a magic pill and just get there. But also like, do you really? No one wants to just get there! The fun is in the…getting to there."

Luckily for all of us, Mack and Rita “reignited my love of directing. And that fire is lit, and I am hungry to do more. I loved it. I also think, as an actor who's aging, it is like great [sighs contentedly] to be able to just work without, you know, being like am I” and here she starts prodding at different parts of her face and neck, as a plastic surgeon might — “is this, is this a thing? Are we worried about this? — That's really nice…There was something about this movie that did speak to me in a lot of ways, and it's really stayed with me, and I hope it does for audiences too.”

Mack and Rita opens Friday, Aug. 12, nationwide.


‘Mack and Rita’ director Katie Aselton lightens up (with the help of Diane Keaton) (4)

Jenni Miller

Jenni Miller is an NYC-based writer and editor who has managed to make a career out of being morbidly curious about people, the media we consume, and why. Along the way, she has traversed the tundra of Sundance, worked countless red carpets, and interviewed everyone from The Lizardman to Jackson Galaxy. The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Happy-Go-Lucky are her favorite movies right this second.

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‘Mack and Rita’ director Katie Aselton lightens up (with the help of Diane Keaton) (2024)
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