Elliott (Maisy Stella) is ready for her life to start. The last 18 years? That’s been killing time, practice, kid stuff, and as we meet the teen on her 18th birthday, mere weeks before she’s about to leave her cozy Canadian lakeside community for college in Toronto (read: the real world!), Elliott is hellbent on leaving that stuff behind. In Megan Park‘s warm-hearted “My Old Ass,” Elliott is forced to grapple — most unexpectedly, most literally — with the past and the present and the future, and all the iterations of her that will populate those time periods.

First, there are the mushrooms. Elliott and her best pals Ruthie (Maddie Ziegler) and Ro (Kerrice Brooks) ingest the hallucinogens to celebrate that key birthday, an experience that sees Ruthie talking to animals and Ro dancing to music only she can hear… and Elliott? She finds herself. More correctly: her old self finds her. Park, who also wrote the film‘s script, builds her sophomore feature (following the far darker but just as sensitively told SXSW winner “The Fallout”) around a banger of a concept: What if you met your elder self during a turning point in your life, and she kinda/sorta advised you on what to do next?

Oh, and said elder self was played by the wise-cracking, perpetually sardonic, and always-welcome Aubrey Plaza? (While Plaza and Stella don’t quite look alike, they share a similar vibe, a winking energy with a raspy voice; it’s plain great casting.) Our teenage Elliott can’t quite believe it when the elder version of herself appears while Ro and Ruthie trip around her, but the lady does know some stuff, and she’s got scars to match Elliott’s (physical and, as we slowly learn, emotional too). (Park also uses Plaza’s character to build in some deeply funny, wonderfully dark hints as to what the future might hold for, not just Elliott, but the world at large, as elder Elliott slips in random asides about missing water and how many kids people are “allowed” to have in her time period.)

For the most part, however, her elder self (AKA the titular “My Old Ass“) is cagey about giving Elliott actual information about what her own life is like two decades later, beyond a few key tips: spend some time with your family, and “avoid anyone named Chad.” That second part should be easy, mostly because Elliott has long identified as a lesbian, and the film even opens with her finally hooking up with her long-time crush. Yet, that’s one piece of the story that’s oddly confusing throughout the majority of the film, because while Elliott mostly seems interested in girls, much of the film’s narrative could be eased with one simple proclamation: “No need to worry about Chads, because I’m not interested in men.”

Yes, that sounds like a basic complaint, but for a film that’s so rooted in exploring who Elliott is and how she’s evolving, her sexuality hangs awkwardly over the entire affair. And the way Park eventually handles Elliott loosening up that sexual identity is warm enough and smart enough to have been approached far earlier. Conversely, Park’s script isn’t too fussy about the how’s and why’s of her concept — maybe elder Elliott really is just a drug-induced hallucination, maybe she’s not, but the bond between Plaza and Stella is strong enough to sell the film’s central big idea with ease — and that’s something that feels like feature, not a bug. Maybe other audiences will feel the opposite.

You can probably guess what happens next: Chad (Percy Hynes White) appears, and he sure doesn’t seem like the kind of person Elliott would want to avoid. He seems like the kind of person — and we get to know Elliott well enough, through Park’s script and direction and Stella’s charming performance, to hear her grown at this next part — Elliott just might love. And while she initially resists his advances, aided by ongoing phone conversations and texts with the older Elliott (truly, do not worry about the mechanics of this, these sequences are some of the most purely delightful of the film), she can’t escape them forever.

She’s less resistant to the family part of the equation, slowly easing into spending more time with her younger brothers, tending the family cranberry farm with her dad, and speaking more deeply to her mother (Maria Dizzia, my favorite character actress working today). Her old ass? She’s got a point about the family stuff. But does that mean she’s got a point about Chad? And how could she, when Elliott finds herself falling — hazy sexuality queries and terrifying warnings from her older self aside — for the sweet-natured summer farm worker?

Park’s care and consideration for the teenage experience continues to shine through in her sophomore film, which uses a winning, funny, crazy concept to explore the emotional landscape of a young woman discovering who she is and who she might be someday. While some of the film’s more under-baked narrative elements might distract at times, Park and her cast still use them to build to an authentic, well-earned final act, one that should resonate with asses young and old.

Grade: B-

“My Old Ass” premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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