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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Poms

Poms is the kind of gentle and innocuous entertainment that we have come to expect from Diane Keaton in recent years.  There's nothing wrong with that, and I have even admired some of her later work.  Plus, I'm sure it's hard to find really good scripts for an actress her age.  But this movie is a bit too gentle and innocuous for its own good.  It raises no stakes for the characters, offers little to nothing to get behind, and barely allows us to know the characters at the middle of it all.  I'm sure the movie was a lot of fun to make, but it's too bland to be much fun to watch.

Keaton plays Martha, a cancer patient who has decided to stop her treatments as the film opens, and live out her final years at a Georgia retirement community called Sun Springs.  Martha is not shy to admit her reasons for being there.  "I've come here to die", she flat out tells the welcoming committee when she arrives at Sun Springs.  She never married, never had kids, and has few friends in her life, so Martha sells off most of her possessions in an estate sale, and settles into a life of what she is certain will be quiet isolation.  That's until she meets her wacky and free-spirited new neighbor at the retirement community named Sheryl (Jacki Weaver).  She's the sort who likes to hold all night poker parties while playing loud music, and enjoys crashing funerals for the free food.  The two strike up an unlikely friendship quite quickly, and Sheryl eventually learns that at one point Martha was going to be on the high school cheerleader squad in her youth, but never got to perform, because her mom got sick and she had to devote all of her time to taking care of her.

Hanging around with Sheryl ignites a spark of life within Martha, who comes up with the idea of creating a cheerleader squad at the retirement community.  Apparently, this is a real life thing, as director Zara Hayes (a documentary filmmaker making her Hollywood debut) was inspired to make this film when she started coming across photos of retirees doing cheerleading routines.  Martha and Sheryl round up a diverse group of eight women from around the community to form their squad, and from there, the movie kind of loses all sense of storytelling, and turns into a bunch of scenes where the ladies work on their routine.  They're supposed to be bonding, but the movie tells us little to nothing about these ladies that make up the cheerleader team.  One of the ladies has a disapproving husband who won't let her try out for the team, but he immediately falls over and dies, so she joins.  That's all we learn about her.  Another lady has an overly protective and rude adult son who is worried that his mom will hurt herself, so he mostly keeps her locked up like a prisoner in her home.  But, since she never gets any real dialogue (either with her son, or the other ladies), we never really get to know her.

I'm afraid that this is the way Poms wants it.  It just wants to entertain us with the images of these old ladies performing these cheerleader routines, and slowly gaining confidence in themselves.  But the movie also has a confused tone.  It doesn't know if it wants the audience to laugh with these ladies when they're performing, or at them.  The elderly women are largely depicted as cartoon caricatures of retirement home citizens, so we can never see them as real people  That's a shame, because there's some big talent here as the women, including Rhea Perlman, Pam Grier and Phyllis Somerville.  None of them get a chance to stand out, and the cast of old ladies who are supposed to be rising above and proving they still have life in them kind of become one big faceless mob.  Only Keaton and Weaver are allowed to get some personal scenes, and they both are very good, obviously.  But the movie doesn't care enough about them for us to truly care.

There are also really no challenges for the ladies to face.  Sure, there are some people who stand in their way once in a while, like the crusty old senior citizens who don't like the fact that some of the members of the retirement community are trying to feel young again.  There's also some mean high school cheerleader girls who ridicule the old lades.  But, the teenage girls turn out not to be so bad at all.  Heck, one of them (a likable Alisha Boe) quits her team to help coach the old ladies.  The main struggle in the film has to do with the fact that Martha is slowly dying.  That storyline is treated more with sweet whimsy than sadness, and it kind of clashes with the broad and cartoon-like tone of the old ladies picking up cheerleading.  It creates a tonal problem that the film never quite overcomes, nor does it successfully resolve with its rather mawkish ending.

Poms is a wish fulfillment fantasy for the elderly that encourages them to go after their bucket list fantasies, no matter how out there they might seem.  That's kind of admirable, but the movie just never goes anywhere that's worth following.  It's harmless, and a few scenes are kind of sweet, but it's bound to be forgotten sooner rather than later.

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