Elizabeth Lail can now be seen in "Mack & Rita." Photo courtesy of Gravitas Premiere
NEW YORK, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Gossip Girl and Ordinary Joe actress Elizabeth Lail says Mack & Rita -- her comedy film about an anxious millennial homebody who magically transforms into a joyful, 70-year-old version of herself -- is a celebration of self-awareness and acceptance.
Directed by Katie Aselton, the movie is set in contemporary California and opens in theaters Friday. It co-stars Diane Keaton, Dustin Milligan, Taylour Paige, Loretta Devine, Simon Rex, Amy Hill, Lois Smith, Wendie Malick, Patti Harrison, Martin Short, Addie Weyrich, Aimee Carrero and Nicole Byer.
"Mack is struggling to be her authentic self among her friends and inside of her work," Lail told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"She experiences this incredible transformation that reminds her who she is and what she likes, and that her needs are worthwhile and worth sharing," the actress added. "We all just need that reminder constantly."
Playing Mack's adorable and wealthy neighbor and dog-sitter, Jack, is Dustin Milligan from Schitt's Creek and Rutherford Falls.
Jack is in love with Mack, but also finds himself attracted to the older woman she turns into, whom he believes to be Mack's Aunt Rita (Keaton).
"He's experiencing the same journey, the same arc [as Mack], but I think he is a little further along," the actor noted.
While Mack first fights her love of stereotypically senior clothes and activities before she gets her new look, Jack is comfortable with his low-key life and affinities for jumbo shrimp and athleisure wear.
"He is a bit more settled into being who he wants to be and accepting that doesn't necessarily fit in what society's expectations are," Milligan said.
"One of the lovely dances that happens between [Zack and Mack] is that neither of them is really sure about who the other is because of the initial presentations of self that are put up," he added. "Throughout the film, they break them down and learn more about each other."
Lail and Milligan feel better about aging after spending time with Keaton during the making of the movie.
"When you see Diane, you're like, 'That age looks great!'" Lail said.
"She looks great because she is so full of life. She's still doing what she loves and is unapologetically herself. I can only hope to get the privilege of aging and be like Diane."
Milligan agreed it's Keaton's joie de vivre that makes her seem younger than she is.
"To carry yourself with as much joy as she does is something I'd love to have now, let alone [when I'm older]," Milligan said.
The stars had very different working relationships with Keaton.
Lail collaborated with the Annie Hall and The Godfather icon behind the scenes to create a seamless version of Mack at two different stages.
"I basically just watched her body of work and watched the dailies on this movie," Lail said. "I wanted to keep it grounded and true and have her spirit be there."
Milligan not only shares the screen with Keaton, he also got to kiss her on the lips.
"She's such a fixture in movies and cinema history, so it's so odd and surreal to actually be working with her," he said.
"But, then again, to have her be so gracious and kind and giving and so alive in the scenes and in a very fun way demanding so much out of you.
"In a lot of ways, instigating this bond between us and this spark and flirtatious, joking around with each other, was something I was so grateful for."
The specifically selected and styled clothes the actors wore in the movie also helped them bring Mack and Jack to life on screen.
"In the beginning of the movie, Mack is playing it safe and hiding her body -- hiding what brings her joy and just trying to fit into the world's idea of what success and goodness look like," Lail said, pointing to how her character yearns to don loud jackets and jewelry, but sadly opts for more casual, less ostentatious attire.
"By the end, through her transformation, fashion becomes a very important art form for her to express herself."
The actress said she felt fortunate to wear a pair of pants from style legend Keaton's personal wardrobe in the film.
"Can you tell how pleased I am about that?" Lail asked, laughing. "It's like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, except it's just me and Diane."
Milligan's costumes for the film are mainly of high-end, neutral-colored workout gear.
"We wanted to make him as enigmatic as possible,," he said.
"You won't be able to read this guy if he is just wearing sweatpants, but, in going to meet someone who he is trying to impress [Mack], as you get to know him, that says so much about who he is," Milligan said.
"He's very comfortable with himself. At the same time, he's kind of got the flex on with those really expensive sneakers."
Lail hopes that viewers see the hopeful film as a bright light in dark times.
"At the end of the day, we are all very human and, despite our divisions, we all tend to be attracted to the same things and want the same things," she said.
"My hope is this movie brings joy and laughter and maybe a little inspiration, like, 'Actually, who I am is great and deserves to be celebrated."
Milligan described the movie as a bit of escapism laced with wisdom.
"You escape, but when you return, you have a lesson that you can take to heart for the rest of your days," he said.