Here’s the thing about film analysis that makes me nervous: What makes a “good” movie?
I’m still figuring this out, but I’ve thankfully accepted there isn’t one right answer to this huge question. I’ve personally experienced different kinds of “good” including but not limited to the following: “Feel-Good and Lighthearted”, “Feel-Good But Whoa! My Heart’s Been Ripped Out”, “Thought-Provoking but Now I’m Unsettled”, “So Bad it’s Hilarious”, “So Corny but Dang, I Needed This”… and then there’s “Watched on a Long Flight” good, which stands alone and overlaps with the others.
From About Time (2013) to Sing Street (2016) to Parasite (2019), I’m happy with my in-flight choices 95% of the time (though I will say that if you, like me, are anxious and claustrophobic, please do not watch Parasite on a long flight; I did not know what to expect at the time beyond that several people had recommended it).
During my most recent flight, I was perplexed by my indecision and inability to feel the “yes, this is it!” moment while looking for a movie to watch. Was it because I hadn’t traveled internationally in a while, was socially drained, and was not in my preferred position in an aisle seat? Maybe it was all of the above because I had to abandon two movies and then scroll through the entire list a few more times till I finally found one that felt perfect for my mood: Mack & Rita (2022).
I was immediately intrigued by the premise: 30-year-old Mack (played by the endearing Elizabeth Lail) feels like a fish out of water because she is hyper-aware of how different she feels from people her age. She associates life’s greatest joys with the elderly, so she dreams of being older and having her life figured out. She loves funky vintage clothes, packs multiple books on trips, and avoids loud places (same!). Her ultimate role model is the grandmother who raised her and once sagely said, “I say what I want and I do what I want. People that don’t like it know where the door is.” All of these things reinforce Mack’s continued belief that she is an old woman trapped in the body of a millennial.
Mack is “sick of all the bullshit” in her life—she is fumbling with herself, her social circles, and her career as an influencer-blogger who would rather be an author. This is partly why she is already exhausted at the start of her best friend Carla’s (Taylour Paige) bachelorette trip to Palm Springs. So of course, Mack is relieved when Carla encourages her to do her own thing while the remaining group goes to a concert. As I watched this scene while flying home from a long and very social trip, I related to the sheer relief on Mack’s face at the opportunity to get some time to herself. I especially felt a sense of kinship because I appreciated seeing the complex struggle of being happy to be around loved ones while also being exhausted by most forms of socializing. At this point in the movie, I decided no matter how corny and/or sloppy the story might get (and it was both), I had to see it through simply for the reminder that I am not alone.
Mack, desperate for a break from being “switched on” all the time, spots a mysteriously-placed tent advertising past-life regression (skeptics, stay with me here), and decides to try it. After a series of weird events involving a tanning bed, she mysteriously turns into Rita, a 70-year-old version of herself played by the delightful Diane Keaton. No one but Keaton herself could have captured the frenetic, sincere energy this movie relies on while also making me feel incredibly seen through this portrayal of a 30-year-old who doesn’t know exactly who she is yet.
The movie’s discussion of ageism is not flawless, but it could not have come at a more perfect time. Earlier that day, I’d watched a refreshing conversation between singer Kelly Clarkson and actor Lauren Graham about challenging the anti-aging rhetoric that runs rampant in our societies, especially among women. I am terrified by mainstream messaging and the things some loved ones flippantly (but well-meaningly) say. Don’t get me wrong—I have moments where I feel scared of getting older as well, but there’s a part of me that craves the self-assurance I think age will bring. Much like Mack, I often find myself wishing I could fast forward to an older version of myself who is more confident, more certain of herself, and more tolerant of dairy (I can dream, okay!). But at the same time, there’s a voice in my head that loudly chimes in: How do you know that’ll be you for sure? And who will you be in the meantime? Why do you need to be older to get there?
Interestingly, there is some science behind this—according to psychologists, people’s personalities “become more balanced” as we age, leading us to become more introverted over time. But what about those of us who crave solitude and prefer smaller, quieter gatherings to larger, more stimulating ones even while we’re younger? I’ve spent years feeling the need to add “haha, I’m such a grandma!” when asked about my habits or schedule or why I’m leaving an event early. This isn’t a unique realization but it is one that I accepted later in life: Conventional social settings, and society in general, are more naturally designed for neurotypical people.
So I was pleasantly surprised that a movie I watched on a whim left me with intense feelings and reassurances about my introverted people-pleasing self. Something people get wrong about introverts is the assumption that we never want to be around people. Those of us who are introverted and neurodivergent aren’t always antisocial, but we do need more time and effort to be social and to find the settings that work for us. This is one of the biggest, most obvious truths in my life, but it took quite some time to accept it.
Combined with the fun trifecta of ADHD, anxiety, and depression, this often makes me want to hibernate under my weighted blanket. So I found myself wanting to enter the screen to ask Mack if she wanted a hug and an “I get you.” I was pleasantly surprised that despite muddled moments that made me roll my eyes a bit, the movie ended up echoing my thoughts and the conversations I’ve had with fellow neurodivergent folks about the biggest struggle many of us face: the exhaustion of existing as ourselves. There have been one too many situations—for me, most recently a wedding (much as I was happy to be there)—where we’ve thought to ourselves, “I am just not built for this.”
I learned recently that it’s common for fellow ADHDers with late-in-life diagnoses to find it difficult or even impossible to return to our previous attempts at masking (camouflaging who we are) and coping in unhealthy ways after confirming this fundamental thing about ourselves. I’m not saying that Mack necessarily has this same struggle, but it was reassuring to see her develop a zeal for life that includes self-acceptance and the grace to let herself rest when necessary. I hope I can get there someday!
The verdict: Mack & Rita falls under both “Watched on a Long Flight” good and “So Corny but Dang, I Needed This” good. ★★★☆☆