The movie Mack and Rita lets Diane Keaton continue the march for former ingenues to maintain a chick-flick presence, a good idea that fails to hurdle all its challenges. Like Keaton’s movies Book Club and Poms, Mack and Rita pulls in a strong cast of women, with the best work coming from longtime pros like a mix that includes Loretta Devine, Wendie Malick, and Lois Smith. Downing chardonnay enthusiastically, they slide into happy repartee, letting any inanities slide off them with ease.
And inanities cause the movie’s biggest problems, starting with its whole body-swapping concept. Unlike Tom Hanks and the little boy who wanted to grow Big, Mack features a woman in her prime who wants to hit Medicare digits. Undefined movie magic makes it happen, giving Keaton the chance to put herself in awkward situations like a Pilates class where klutziness rules. Keaton remains likeable in a role designed to highlight the points that make her famous like her skill for mixing unexpected fashion options that bring on smiles.
But even she cannot overcome the story’s structural flaws. Of course, anybody-swap story features a fantasy element that requires suspending belief, but the successful ones contain some truths. That logic falls apart in Mack and Rita, where everyone loves the older woman because of her open honesty—except she’s living a lie. A situation that induces more head shaking confusions than laughs, the Mack and Rita movie lacks a workable premise.
In contrast, the newest version of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris gives an experienced actress a chance to make unbelievable circumstances believable—or desirable enough to accept a whole non-stop set of improbabilities. Leslie Manville, the Oscar nominee from Phantom Thread and upcoming Princess Margaret in The Crown, proves so likeable as a British cleaning woman who takes Cristian Dior by surprise that it only seems mean-spirited to wish for anything other than the story’s feel-good antics.
Based on a 1950s novel by bestselling author Paul Gallico, Mrs. Harris features fantasy elements without engaging in supernatural activities in a romantic and fashion-oriented world geared towards the chick-flick set. Gallico’s dream suggests that a truly kind, thoughtful, and nice person can overcome such obstacles as classism, agism, and being French. Manville, with smiles and warmth, makes it work.