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POMS

Rah! Rah! Rah!

Diane Keaton
Diane Keaton
STX Entertainment
 91 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed ByZara Hayes
Starring: Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver    
B-
Poms

As soon as I saw trailers for the new comedy, Poms, I felt reasonably certain that I could predict three things about the movie. First, the majority of critics would not like the film, calling it clichéd and predictable. Second, it would not appeal to most members of the usual moviegoing demographic. And, third, those who did see it, primarily older, occasional moviegoers, would find it enjoyable. It turns out I was right on all three counts. And it actually turned out to be fairly entertaining, albeit predictable.

 

Poms stars Diane Keaton as Martha, a recently retired New York City schoolteacher with seemingly no family or friends but a terminal cancer diagnosis. So, she packs up what few belongings that she doesn’t sell and heads to the lively retirement community of Sun Springs, somewhere outside the Atlanta city limits in Georgia. Martha’s goal is to do little and await her death s as quietly as possible, which immediately runs afoul of the perky resident queen bee of the community, Vicki (Celia Weston). After giving Martha a guided tour of the various golf courses, swimming pools, and tennis courts at Sun Springs, Vicki tells the new resident that everyone in the community must join at least one club. Not to worry, however, Vicki lets Martha know, because those who don’t like any of the clubs can start their own.

 

Martha does make one friend, her dynamo of a next-door neighbor, Sheryl (Jacki Weaver), whose self-described favorite activities are poker and poking. At first, the ever-polite Martha merely tolerates Sheryl, especially after her neighbor invites Martha to a stranger’s wake just so the two can get a free meal. Eventually, the pair bond somewhat, although Martha keeps her cancer diagnosis a secret. Later, when Sheryl sees an old cheerleader uniform among Martha’s belongings, the ex-school teacher reveals that she had made the team in high school but had to quit the squad to take care of her ailing mother.

 

In one of the movie’s major plot developments that seem to occur out of thin air, Martha decides to start a cheerleading club for the residents. She and Sheryl hold tryouts and eventually fill out a roster of eight women (the only ones who show up). The squad members include Olive (Pam Grier), who hopes that her cheerleading will put a bit of pizzazz back in the bedroom with her husband, and Alice (Rhea Perlman), a browbeaten housewife who decides to join immediately following the death of her husband. Also, there’s Helen (Phyllis Sommerville), whose controlling son thinks that the cheerleading club is an excuse for Martha and the others to get at his mother’s money. Martha also earns the enmity of Vicki, who feels (for reasons unknown other than the fact that the plot requires her to be the major obstacle in the cheerleaders’ happiness) that the club will harm the reputation of the community and is determined to shut Martha down.

 

As if Vicki’s opposition wasn’t enough of a problem, the senior citizen cheerleaders also encounter a rather hostile reaction when they go “on the road” to the local high school to practice their routine (Sheryl, who is a substitute teacher, pulls some strings to have them take part in a pep rally.) As inevitably happens in movies like Poms, the practice is a disaster, with the women continually messing up, getting out of step, and colliding with each other. Eventually, Helen falls, breaking her leg. In a shoutout to the social media era, some rather snotty high school cheerleaders record the botched routine and post it on Youtube, where Martha’s “fail” goes viral. This failure leads Vicki, Helen’s son, and others to pretty much pull the plug on the club.

 

Anyone who thinks that these setbacks will keep Martha and her friends down obviously hasn’t seen any sports movie since the days of the original Bad News Bears. Indeed, I found it rather entertaining to see how easily the hoary clichés of the zeroes-to-heroes sports films carried over to Poms. Of course, the reason for these cheerleaders’ inability to perform their routines initially is more a matter of age and physical weakness than anything else, which means that director Zara Hayes (whose previous experience is in making documentaries) had to be quite careful not to alienate the audience by dwelling excessively on infirmity. To this end, the actresses in the cast help out tremendously by gladly poking good-hearted fun at themselves and each other.

 

In fact, it’s the acting ensemble (along with some good choreography in the actual competition scenes) who save Poms over and over. The screenplay by Hayes and an equally inexperienced co-writer, Shane Atkinson, is mostly MIA. There are big gaps where scenes that establish motive or character should be, such as exactly how Martha transforms from having one foot in the grave to rallying her squad. Similarly, the film never answers why Vicki goes after Martha other than the fact that the film needs an antagonist. And, although the team has eight members, three of them seem to have no personalities whatsoever, other than being given a couple of short lines during the tryouts. In all honesty, the only reason they are in the movie is that the squad needed eight bodies.

 

However, when you have actresses like Diane Keaton, Celia Weston, Rhea Perlman, Pam Grier, Phyllis Somerville, and, especially, Jacki Weaver, screenplays don’t matter that much. Keaton still displays that quiet star power she showed opposite Woody Allen in Annie Hall four decades ago. Weaver actually upstages her better-known co-star in several scenes, providing the bulk of the humor in the movie. The cast’s enjoyment in their roles is obvious, and it translates to the screen, giving Poms a feel-good quality that isn’t warranted by the script alone.

 

Also, the technical work in Poms is quite good as well. During the climactic final competition, the audience first gets to see younger cheerleaders perform some dazzling routines, followed by Martha and her squad. Now, I’m sure that Keaton, Weaver, Grier, and company didn’t perform all their routines, but the editing and double work are quite good. Director Hayes doesn’t attempt to persuade viewers that these senior cheerleaders are capable of the same level of acrobatics as are high school and college-age performers, but the routines are well choreographed with some complex yet credible ensemble routines.

 

I admit that I was favorably disposed towards Poms when I entered the theater, but what I encountered was a group of talented older actresses throwing themselves wholeheartedly into a slight story  This is not up to the level of the Godfather films or Woody Allen’s best work by a longshot, but it’s a crisp 90 minutes of entertainment. Poms is not worth a standing ovation, but it does merit a cheer or two.

In this clip, Diane Keaton and Jacki Weaver want to enter a cheerleading competition.

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Poms (2019) on IMDb

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