There’s something irreconcilable about “Poms ,” a movie about women in a retirement community who start a cheerleading club. The film wants us to laugh at the idea of older women trying to be cheerleaders, but also be inspired and empowered by their determination. There may have been a way to let it be both, but “Poms” evidently wasn’t interested in digging that deep. Perhaps that’s because it’s too busy being embarrassed of itself, as though director Zara Hayes and screenwriter Shane Atkinson realized too late that they’d assembled a cast of rock star actresses like Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, Jacki Weaver and Rhea Perlman and forgot to write a real movie, or characters, for them.
Keaton’s character, Martha, is the most perplexing and underwritten of all. We meet her as she’s selling all her things in a sidewalk sale to prepare to move to a retirement village in Georgia. In voiceover she says that when you get old, you think that your children will have to deal with your stuff. “Well, I never had any children,” she concludes, as you think, OK, fine, but why would she have started that sentence out the way she did?
We don’t learn much about the mysterious life of Martha. She was a teacher (of what and for whom is neither answered nor asked), her mother was very sick when she was in high school, she once wanted to be a cheerleader, she lived in the same apartment for 46 years and now she has cancer, doesn’t want to continue treatment and wants to die. She is also very grumpy and unhappy to be living in what honestly seems like a paradise retirement community full of big houses, active, happy seniors and lush grounds with pools and tennis courts and golf carts to get around, despite some Stepford Wives-y rules and regulations, including the stipulation that she has to join a club or start her own.
Spoiler, with the help of her new friend Sheryl (Weaver) she starts a cheerleading club to fulfill the only unfulfilled desire in her life that we get to know about. It gives her something to live for even if everyone else in the world is irrationally angry about the idea.
But six women (Grier, Perlman, Phyllis Somerville, Patricia French, Carol Sutton and Ginny MacColl) decide to go against the grain and try out. None are very good and they all have ailments making any sort of standard choreography difficult, but nary a rehearsal montage later and they’re performing at a high school pep rally where they are met with jeers and laughter. No, it’s not a dream sequence, and yes, it makes no sense.
But that’s the operating mode of “Poms.” Why do something rooted in reality when you can just go for the biggest, silliest, most irrational thing in the name of comedy?
“Poms” really wants to be a sweet movie with a sweet message, but it’s hard to buy into it when none of the squad gets significant backstories, inner lives or even enough dialogue to give them distinct personalities. They’re just there to be punching bags for other characters and the movie.
Sheryl’s grandson (Charlie Tahan), a random local high school student (Alisha Boe) and the retirement village security guard (Bruce McGill) get more significant arcs than any of the main women. Both they and the audience deserve something better.
It’s fine to make a film that’s just supposed to make an audience smile (hello, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”) but this film doesn’t even get close to that level of joy. Even the climactic routine, a supposed moment of triumph, is shot like someone reluctantly watching through their fingers.
“Poms,” an STXfilms release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some language/sexual references.” Running time: 91 minutes. Two stars out of four.