‘Poms’ Is Pleasant, But Forgettable

Courtesy of STXfilms
Courtesy of STXfilms

Diane Keaton is a performer who I like even when she’s in a terrible movie. I still, to this day, defend Because I Said So and Mad Money. Even last year’s Book Club, I found to be something of a delight. It was a movie that embraced clichés and forced Keaton and the crew of legends around her to do a lot of heavy lifting to make the end result enjoyable, and it was. Fast forward a year later and we have another Diane Keaton film released in early summer. Poms is mostly pleasant fluff about staying true to yourself and why it’s never too late to chase your dream.

Martha (Keaton) is a woman in her early 70s diagnosed with cancer, and she’s accepted that her death could be imminent. Instead of fighting for her life, she decides to ignore her illness and sell all of her belongings as well as her New York apartment where she’s lived forever, and move into a retirement community in Georgia. She befriends her spunky next door neighbor Cheryl (Jacki Weaver), who finds her old cheerleading uniform in her belongings. Martha was a cheerleader when she was younger but gave it up to tend to her dying mother. Cheryl convinces her to ‘give it another shot.’ They form a group of senior cheerleaders that includes Alice (Rhea Perlman), Olive (Pam Grier), Helen (Phyllis Somerville), Evelyn (Ginny MacColl), and Ruby (Carol Sutton). These older women team up to prove to the world they’re still worth cheering for.

I would be able to overlook almost every cliché, every underwritten character and every stupid joke in this movie if it were not for a specific plot element. This is essentially a movie about a woman ignoring her potentially terminal illness. We see Martha canceling her future doctor appointments early on in the story, but we never see her attempt to seek medical attention again, even in a vulnerable moment where she reveals how scared she is. We also don’t know very much about her backstory, what she did in New York if she had any family or friends in her life before this film began. If this movie gave us more information about her medical situation and made her motivations clear, I would not have a problem with the fact that the way her character is behaving doesn’t really make any sense. In any case, the audience is asked to care about this woman that doesn’t seem to care about herself, and that’s a bit frustrating.

Diane Keaton, however, is working overtime at selling this bad script as something better than it is. Keaton has always been an actress whose talent elevates whatever is in the script, and she’s still excellent, although I would like to see her do something more serious and less schmaltzy next time. She has excellent chemistry with Jacki Weaver’s character, and you really buy their friendship, and how they come to mean a lot to each other in very little time.

Every other member of this cast is wasted. I can’t believe how little Pam Grier has to do in this movie. She’s a legend, from her 70’s Blaxploitation roots to her resurgence in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. I have no idea why she would even agree to play a role like this that gives her absolutely nothing cool to do. She’s a background character, she’s nothing. Same goes for Phyllis Somerville and Rhea Perlman, pretty much every actor other than Keaton and Weaver has no reason to be here. Alisha Boe plays Chloe, a high school cheerleader who steps up to help the ladies train, and of course, we get the prepackaged Hallmark-card ‘each generation has a lot to learn from each other!’ message.

This is the narrative debut of documentarian Zara Hayes, she also co-wrote the script with Shane Atkinson, and it is a shaky start to a directorial career. In the end, it is appropriately rousing and fun to watch these ladies find the success that they want out of life, but it’s a rough road to that point. This is a script stacked high with every cliché in the book about aging, and it doesn’t say anything enlightening about what it means to be an older person chasing a dream. It’s ultimately way too fluffy and lightweight, and this could have been a sneakily subversive film with sound observations and a good slate of supporting characters, but instead, it’s almost nothing. It wants you to stand up and cheer, but you never really want to. It’s pleasant enough, but ultimately it’s forgettable and banal.

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