I normally have a soft spot for old-people-having-fun movies. I’m a big fan of movies like Book Club and Going in Style, and similar movies that put together casts full of legends and just let them goof off and have fun filming the project. Normally the energy onscreen is enough to translate to this viewer and bring me out of whatever bad mood I was in that day. However, when these movies don’t work, they really don’t work. Enter Queen Bees, or Where Legendary Careers Go to Die.
Helen (Ellen Burstyn) is an independent older woman who has kind of grown to enjoy her solitude after the death of her husband. After a fire that requires her home to be repaired, her daughter convinces her to temporarily move into the Pine Grove retirement home that won’t stop sending her brochures. Once there, she discovers a clique of ‘queen bees’ – Janet (Jane Curtin), Sally (Loretta Devine) and Margot (Ann Margaret). These women run the bridge club and infiltrate Helen, initially to taunt her, but the real Pine Grove is the friends we made along the way, or whatever.
Queen Bees infuriated me and made me long for the sweet release of death. A movie hasn’t made me as viscerally angry as Queen Bees in a long time, and I think it’s because I go into movies like this not expecting much and I still leave feeling like all of the joy within my soul has been drained and thrown down the garbage disposal. Not only that, but now all that’s left is this hateful, angry person who’s going to write a review with the sole purpose of talking shit on this harmless boomer movie. But Queen Bees ruined my day and I have to talk about it.
First of all, Queen Bees makes the awful 2018 Diane Keaton vehicle Poms look like a competently made film. I’ll link my review of that movie here, but Poms is a disaster that gives people like Pam Grier and Phyllis Somerville two lines and makes Jacki Weaver’s clichéd bed-hopping relic a central character. This one at least gives all four ladies an equal amount of lousy material to work with. I can’t believe you could gather Ellen Burstyn, Loretta Devine, Jane Curtin and Ann Margaret, not to mention James Caan and Christopher Lloyd and this is the best you could give them to do. Queen Bees is elder abuse.
Donald Martin, who frequently writes the scripts for Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, wrote the screenplay and it’s as smarmy and syrupy as that would suggest. We have a mother and daughter who have to find their way back to each other, we have a bully who’s really just misunderstood, we have a character reveal they’re dying of cancer in act one only for that to never be mentioned again for the rest of the film. We also have the grandson (Matthew Barnes) who is oddly, creepily attached to his grandmother and seems more like a younger romantic companion than a family member. We also have a reveal of a character suffering from advanced dementia only for them to quickly bounce back from it, and for it never be mentioned again.
Michael Lembeck directed this, and he’s a somewhat prolific sitcom and made-for-TV movie director. He once won an Emmy for directing an episode of Friends. Lembeck belongs in director jail for life, right next to Tom Hooper and Michael Bay, and he should never make anything for film or television ever again. With a halfway decent script, one that allowed its actors to improvise, a director could disappear into the project and it would hardly matter who the filmmaker is. But unfortunately the overwhelming thought that kept going through my mind was that someone needs to be held accountable for this.
I saw Queen Bees on a Wednesday afternoon in a theater that had maybe 20 patrons combined. My thirty-something friend and I were the youngest people there and I would go into a film like this expecting to abandon the critical part of my brain and be swept up in the energy and fun of it all. But instead, I just sat there in disbelief as the movie pauses, presumably for audience laughter, and you could hear a pin drop in my theater. Nobody was laughing. I just sat there with my mouth agape, shocked that it could get worse, actually. And that it kept getting worse.
In conclusion, Queen Bees is a comedy without a single joke that works, a life-lesson movie without anything meaningful to offer its audience and a total assault to just about every actor involved. Billed as Mean Girls on Social Security, I figured this would be an easy good time. And then I remembered Tina Fey wrote Mean Girls. It takes skill to do this kind of thing correctly and Martin and Lembeck do not have what it takes. Current American life has me thinking a lot about mortality and death lately, and if this is any old person’s last movie they see in theaters before dying, that is an absolute tragedy. Life is too short for movies like Queen Bees.