Just a few weeks ago, I stepped up in front of a group of people, dressed in high-waisted wide-leg pants and a turtleneck, and introduced a little motion picture called The First Wives Club.
It was part of a screening series I’d organized. In my mind it was less of an introduction of the film itself, and more a chance for me to make a definitive statement about how much I loved one of its stars. She’s a woman who has inspired me in a million different ways, from back when I used to watch Woody Allen movies religiously (don’t cancel me, I haven’t paid for one in over a decade!) to now when I sit through every charmingly mediocre film and glorious Instagram post she makes. That woman, dear reader, is Diane Keaton.
Depending on what generation you’re from or what brand of film aficionado you are, you may have discovered a different version of Diane Keaton at any given point in your life. Some have seen her gripping work in films like Reds, Godfather Part II, and Marvin’s Room. Others know her as Woody Allen’s quirky girlfriend from Annie Hall. Even more probably know her best from her slew of comedies over the last four decades, from Baby Boom and Father of the Bride to Something’s Gotta Give and Book Club.
The pleasure of watching Diane Keaton act can be found in all different styles of performance, but her kookiness and natural charisma is what has kept her in the spotlight for, quite literally, half a century.
That wackiness and that career unpredictability has made her somewhat of a unicorn in today’s entertainment landscape. Here is a prestige actress, one of the most celebrated performers in screen history, acting—it seems—proudly in some of the silliest projects, accentuating that wanton carefree film resumé with an equally eccentric public persona and social media presence. (And, lest we forget, sense of style.)
A certain quirkiness and idiosyncrasy has always been Keaton’s “thing.” But with a new movie coming out this weekend, the escalation of that part of her personality and her career seems to have reached a new peak. The unexpected part: We’re not embarrassed for her; we love her even more for it.
Her latest feature, Mack & Rita, brings us face to face with just how appealing the idea of being Diane Keaton is in a fresh, fun, and flirty way: What if a 30 year old who was disappointed with her life was magically transformed into a 70 year old? It’s the same body swap concept we’ve seen plenty of times—in this case, a 30 Going On 70 instead of 13 Going On 30, but with the idea of growing into Diane Keaton being the main draw. Truly, who wouldn’t want that?
The film’s protagonist Mack (Elizabeth Lail) is fixated on this idea of being an older woman just like her grandmother; of dressing however she pleases, of not being forced to go to a Bad Bunny pop-up show, and of just enjoying retirement instead of being bogged down by her job. Hell, she’s the kind of girl who pops on glasses just to read a menu at brunch.
When Mack becomes Rita (and Lail becomes Keaton), she’s riddled with horror at the age change, but quickly settles into absolute comfort with who she’s become. In the age of the geriatric millennial (a term so insulting I hesitate to use it now), it serves as a celebration of all those habits that separate us from a generation that thinks of us as strange and disposable.
It’s the kind of late-era film that Keaton has become adept at without ever needing to do all that much work, coasting entirely on her charm and the way she interacts with her castmates. Here, she’s as great with the young bunch of Dustin Milligan, Taylour Paige, and Patti Harrison as she is with her magnificent older co-stars Loretta Devine, Amy Hill, Wendie Malick, and Lois Smith.
Mack & Rita isn’t alone in its specific blend of “this is cringey, why in the world is Diane Keaton stooping to this” and “you know what, it’s actually a hoot to see her in a movie this silly.” It’s actually in conversation with much of her recent, late-era work.
Book Club (and its soon to come sequel) features a ridiculous plot about older women reading 50 Shades of Grey, but basically amounts to her having a blast with Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen. Poms mixes her in with Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Celia Weston, and Rhea Perlman as women in a retirement community who put together a cheerleading squad. And if someone put me in charge of a studio, I would simply assemble another Mamma Mia sequel and stick Diane Keaton and her First Wives Club co-stars in it to create the greatest work of art known to mankind.
These aren’t particularly good movies—one might even call them bad—but they are charming mediocrities that work simply because people enjoy watching talented people bounce off each other. They’re the airplane movie you’re actually excited to see, and might even stay awake for.
But for Keaton, this kind of movie isn’t just a phenomenon of recent years. It goes back to all the forgettable, if enjoyable, stuff she’s released over the last few decades: The Family Stone, Because I Said So, Mad Money, Morning Glory, and And So It Goes. Enjoyable, but forgettable, is, believe it or not, an important Hollywood brand (though I will, in fact, go to bat for Morning Glory any day of the week). And Diane Keaton is one hell of a brand ambassador.
What is it about Keaton that keeps her in the cultural eye? What is it that makes me unreasonably obsessed with everything about her? What makes her the preoccupation on Twitter when it comes to actresses of a certain age?
There’s something ineffable about her. She is so thoroughly herself in every single thing she does, from her roles to every interview and social media post she makes. There’s a Diane Keaton energy that is apparent whenever she appears, but is impossible to describe or replicate. She is so unconventional—The outfits! The bonkers personality! The desire to film all these goofy movies!—but she’s also something of an everywoman.
With her natural magnetism and vulnerability, she makes us believe that it is possible to win people over as easily as she does, even in our most neurotic moments (of which I have far too many). She makes us believe that we can be the girl that both Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson fall for, even when we’re weeping at the computer trying to get our writing done (which is why I’m hoping someone will swipe right while I write this). It’s why she can wear the most distinct outfits and always come across as someone to admire, rather than laugh at, like we’re back in the Joan Rivers Fashion Police days (and why I buy my fast fashion wide-leg pants to emulate her famous Margiela jeans).
These oddities, these quirks, these whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-them, are precisely why she’s as loveable as she is. Take any of her TWENTY appearances on the Ellen show, from lying about kissing Kris Kristofferson to being a Belieber. She plays the perfect kooky contrast to the “straight man” that is Ellen.
Or what of her magnificent Instagram, where she posts everything from personal photos to memes of herself (including one describing her aesthetic as “coastal grandmother”, which is what I aspire to be)?. The whole thing functions largely in what I can only describe as a stream-o-consciousness glimpse into the mind of Diane Keaton via absurdist video art. Old interviews, random photos (some clearly pulled off Google), witty anecdotes, and playful libido are mixed together to create videos like this tribute to all the men Keaton has a thing for (whether she actually does or doesn’t is a whole different story).
In a world that so often feels overwhelming and determined to make everything feel exactly the same, there’s something sort of revolutionary about seeing someone be so decidedly frivolous and unique. With every passing year, it feels more and more as though Diane Keaton doesn’t give a fuck what you think about her or her choices (be they stylistically or cinematically). That is, frankly, riveting to see. Just like Mack & Rita posits: maybe it’s not about old age, or even middle age, but simply about being one’s own authentic self,as cheesy as that sounds.
Maybe my obsession ties into the fact that she represents an ideal of what I’d like to be as someone queer, whose definition of the ideal aesthetic exists somewhere between normal and offbeat; between masculine and feminine; between wine mom and something of an intellectual bimbo; consciously (and maybe sometimes unconsciously) living in that sweet spot between idiocy and genius. It’s not just that I copy the wardrobe choices that have defined her since Annie Hall. I’m aspiring to embrace all my weird emotions as openly and sometimes hysterically as she does in any given film. Or maybe I’m just a little crazy. But so is Diane Keaton, and there’s comfort in knowing she’s out there for everyone as batty as me.
[Editor’s Note: Juan agreed to be paid for this article exclusively in bottles of The Keaton wine.
The Daily Beast