Film Icon And National Treasure Diane Keaton Goes From “Book Club” To “Cheerleading Club”, As She Leads A Wonderful Cast Including: Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier and Rhea Perlman In “Poms”.
Last week, 67 year old veteran actress Anjelica Huston gave what was supposed to be a simple interview to online site Vulture and ended up turning it into an online feud. She candidly discussed her legendary filmmaker father (John Huston), her ex Jack Nicholson, and the limited roles offered to older actors in her age range in Hollywood. She reflected on why she’s been scarce on the big screen for the past decade or so as she stated, “I’m looking for movies that impress me in some way, that aren’t apologetically humble or humiliating like, a ‘Band of cheerleaders getting back together for one last hurrah,’ you know? An old-lady cheerleader movie. I don’t like that kind of thing. If I’m going to be an old lady and I’m sort of touching old lady status these days, at least I want to be a special old lady. I don’t want to be relegated to some has been making a comeback”.
Incidentally, the “band of cheerleaders gets back together for one last hurrah” was not a made-up plot line. It is the premise of the new comedy “Poms”, starring Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier and Rhea Perlman. A true feel-good comedy about a retirement community cheer squad that opens this weekend, just in time for Mother’s Day. The day after Huston’s interview was published, Vanity Fair asked co-star of “Poms”, Jacki Weaver what she thought of Huston’s remarks. Weaver had several colorful retorts, the one comeback that got the most attention was the most direct with Weaver saying: “Well, she can go f*** herself”.
It’s obvious Anjelica Huston won’t be seeing “Poms” anytime soon. Being a fan of the great Diane Keaton I was in full support of seeing her put a band of cheerleaders back together for one last hurrah! Produced by one of the producers of last year’s and far superior “Book Club”, that was released in the same second week of May last year. “Book Club” also starred Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen, it was a box office success, grossing $90 million on a $10 million budget.
Diane Keaton leads a cast of actresses over the age of 60 in a picture that treats them with the respect and understanding they deserve. It’s a teal treat to see Pam Grier and Rhea Perlman, back on the big screen headlining a studio release. While they are the co-stars “Poms” focuses on the core relationship formed between Diane Keaton’s Martha, who is a new arrival to Georgia’s Sun Springs retirement community, and Jacki Weaver’s Sheryl, her cheerful boundary overstepping next door neighbor.
Being faced with Ovarian cancer, New Yorker Martha has sold most of her possessions, where she moves to a retirement housing community hoping she can spend the rest of her days in peace and pass away quietly. Resting in peace won’t come easily as informed by queen bee of the welcoming committee Vicki (Celia Weston). According to Vicki, all Sun Springs residents are required to join at least one club. When none of the existing clubs appeal to Martha, she gets talked into starting her own by recruiting new friend Sheryl and seven other retirees, who want to re-live their glory days as cheerleaders and form a senior citizen squad.
Because “Poms” is Zara Hayes’ first scripted feature, after spending most of her career making documentaries. “Poms” suffers from a few technical aspects that feel rough in both the direction and screenwriting departments. It’s one of those films that you know exactly what your going to get based off the trailer. There is nothing wrong with that, especially in our times today we need these kinds films like “Poms”, where the movie’s heart is in the right place, that provides an uplifting message about teamwork, friendship and not letting your age be a barrier. It’s cinematic comfort food at it’s highest order, it avoids insulting the viewers intelligence, and makes the viewer feel good for an hour and a half. “Poms” is a simple, undemanding cinematic delight, a high-spirited underdog comedy with a bittersweet center.
Zara Hayes, assembled a cast almost entirely populated by women and rarely does the topic of men ever come up. The script by Shane Atkinson combines feel-good elements with a bittersweet tale, and the kind of movie that would be a great matinee date to take your grandma to see. Shane’s script is uneven at times, with the laughs not going as far as it should have been. Most importantly he hits the cliché button few too many times, as one can easily guess where things are going when Martha concocts the idea of leading a cheerleading club. Cue the comedic bad auditions montage!
The ladies practice and practice as they lead up to the films big climax at the Senior Showcase where they plan to premiere their routine pom poms, where the Sun Springs cheerleaders will either sink or swim. The clichés don’t stop there as Martha tries to hide her failing health from her new friends. Truths will be told and adversities faced. Martha’s diagnosis is where much of the film gets it’s dramatic tension. “Poms” doesn’t have its characters brood over one another regarding their age or mortality. Instead the women are aware of their ages and are not discouraged by it, as when Martha sees an absurd commercial for a service that turns a dead person’s ashes into fireworks so they can be sent off, “with a bang” as she nods in excitement at the idea. Zara keeps a number of crowd-pleasing feminist moments as the women stand up for themselves and each other.
There’s no shortage of spirit among the cast of “Poms”. Although it’s hard to stay disappointed or not feel the spirit of the cast especially when Diane Keaton is the lead and still at the age of 73 is one of cinema’s national treasures. The lovely performances of Diane Keaton and Jacki Weaver bring a dignified poignance to their bond as new best friends. When Martha confides in Sheryl that she’s scared, it’s a moment of pure heart-ache between the two characters. It’s the films most emotional moment and Diane Keaton showcases why she has been in this business for so long.
While Keaton wrestles with the painful arc of a cancer-stricken character, there is humor that is both sweet hearted and funny. The funny comes courtesy of Jacki Weaver who steals every comedic moment outright. As in one funny moment in the first meeting with Martha. Sheryl invites her to lunch for the first time, and she brings her to a wake to stuff food into ziplock bags and Tupperware to eat later. All the while raving that the best things about the retirement community is that someone is always dying and the wakes are always full of free food. There are hints to Sheryl’s family problems and why her grandson lives with her, but the story doesn’t really get into it, preferring instead to keep Sheryl a funny and uncomplicated presence.
As Keaton and Weaver get to have the lead and are given more fleshed out characters, the rest of the squad remains strictly as side characters. Rhea Perlman gets a little more screen time than the others as a newly liberated woman who’s free from her controlling husband. It’s great to see Perlman back on the screen as is the criminally underutilized Pam Grier, relegating her to only a few lines and defining her character as “the married one” of the group. As the other supporting players in the group Phyllis Somerville, Patricia French, Carol Sutton and Ginny MacColl round out the squad, each of them adding a different dynamic. While this is no “Book Club” nor is it as funny. Keaton and the entire cast still rise to the occasion and are clearly having so much fun, that only a grump (here’s looking at you Anjelica Huston!) would resist getting swept up in their joy.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)