Diane Keaton Elevates Uneven but Cute ‘Poms’

Over the years Diane Keaton has portrayed different female characters in different stages of life. She was J.C. Wiatt, the strong, powerful businesswoman who became a reluctant adopted mother in Baby Boom (1987); Nina Banks the loving, devoted wife and gushing mother in Father of the Bride (1991); Annie MacDuggan Paradis, a bitter divorcee in First Wives Club (1996) and now we get to meet former schoolteacher Martha settle in at a retirement community in Poms.

We don’t know much about Martha except that she is a bit of a recluse, has lived in the same apartment for many, many years, doesn’t have many friends and has no children. It is also unclear why she decides to pick up and move to the Sun Springs retirement community where one can “have the time of your life for the rest of your life.” When asked what brought her to neighborhood, she replies, “I’m just here to die.” They think she’s kidding, but Martha is battling cancer.

Diane Keaton and Celia Weston in STX Films' "Poms.
Martha (Diane Keaton) meets Sun Springs director Vicki (Celia Weston) in Poms. (STX Films)

Sun Springs is everything that Martha isn’t. Everyone is super-friendly and chatty. Before Martha can finish unpacking the few things she brought with her, she is accosted by Sheryl (Jacki Weaver) her new and loud next door neighbor. Sheryl doesn’t have many female friends and is determined to become best buddies with Martha whether she likes it or not. Eventually, the two hit it off and Martha shares with Sheryl that she was once a cheerleader for a brief time but never got the chance to perform. And that’s how the cheerleading club at Sun Springs begins.

The idea of a cheerleading club at a senior community doesn’t sit well with Vicki (Celia Weston), the Sun Springs director who was once a cheerleader champ herself. She does everything within her power to stop this nonsense. Undeterred, the two women recruit six more ladies to perform at the club’s upcoming talent show including Olive (Pam Grier), Alice (Rhea Perlman), Helen (Phyllis Somerville), Ruby (Carol Sutton), Evelyn (Ginny MacColl) and Phyllis (Patricia French). And after a mishap during a “practice” at a local high school, they recruit age-appropriate cheerleader Chloe (Alisha Boe) to help Martha coach the team.

While its premise is silly, Poms overcomes its uneven storyline with a great cast and even more powerful messages of friendship, accepting oneself “as is” and not caring about what anyone else thinks of you. In one scene, Martha tells her squad to look at themselves in a mirror and shout out what it is that they like about themselves. As if they were back in high school, we see their Insecurities looming over them, which is a sad reminder that no matter how old we get, we still never quite get over ourselves.

In the traditional view, these ladies have no business getting into this new hobby. They are old, overweight, have some physical ailments and are uncoordinated. Thankfully, the movie goes beyond the “but they have heart” excuse. These women are dedicated and are willing to put in the hard work. It really is inspirational.

Rhea Perlman, Patricia French, Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, Jackie Weaver, Carol Sutton, Phyllis Somerville and Ginny MacColl in STX Film's "Poms."
(L-R) Rhea Perlman, Patricia French, Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, Jackie Weaver, Carol Sutton, Phyllis Somerville and Ginny MacColl. (STX Films)

Despite its good intentions though, Zara Hayes’ film is lacking in a few areas. The team features eight women, but the story mostly focuses on Martha and Sheryl. All of the women are colorful characters, but the story doesn’t develop them much. I would have loved to have seen more of Perlman’s Alice character (whose golf-loving, overbearing husband at first forbids her from joining the team) and less of Weaver’s Sheryl. Sheryl bounces back and forth from being obnoxious to caring friend and her tales of sexual escapades wears thin rather quickly. Weston’s Vicki is also reduced to overbearing villain stereotype.

On the plus side, Zara Hayes’ story pits the senior cheerleaders against snotty high school cheerleaders who are all young, pretty, in shape and popular. The older crowd proves that those are not the necessary skills to perform. The movie is also surprisingly tender at times pulling on a few heartstrings and not shying away from the fact that none of us will live forever. Fortunately, the movie never dives into melodrama territory. Of course, what makes Poms is Keaton’s performance. Alternating between being kind and distant, Martha’s character is a difficult one to present, but as always, Keaton does a fine job of balancing the dual personalities.

Poms hasn’t received a lot of fanfare and I suspect many people aren’t even aware that the movie is premiering in theaters this Mother’s Day weekend. Of course, the film will appeal to older folks, but its messages are also good for a younger generation to hear as well. Just be aware that there is some mild swearing and some brief raunchy talk that might make both grandma and granddaughter blush. Fortunately, not so much to ruin a good time.

Featured photo: STX Films

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