Each year, usually sometime around Mother’s Day weekend, Hollywood churns out a well-meaning if bland offering specifically designed for older audiences. Rising above the comfortable charm of the basic retiree fare, director Zara Hayes’s Poms uses feel-good clichés as a jumping off point, but reaches past them to something a bit more sincere. This cozy underdog comedy extends an invitation to viewers who are up in years without simply and thoughtlessly pandering to them.
After selling off nearly all of her personal belongings and leaving New York City in the dust, former schoolteacher Martha (Diane Keaton, who has been getting her groove back in movies for roughly 30 years now) makes her way to a retirement community in the Georgia heat. There, she meets wild and carefree Sheryl (Jacki Weaver, proving once again that we don’t even remotely deserve her), who promptly encourages her to pick up her teenage dream of cheerleading. Soon, Martha forms a senior citizen pep squad, featuring the likes of Pam Grier, Phyllis Somerville, and and Rhea Perlman, much to the dismay of the uptight welcoming committee chair (Celia Weston).
At its best, Zara Hayes (making the shift from documentary to narrative feature) and Shane Atkinson’s script feels honest. Filled with dry, sarcastic humor, Poms boasts characters who have outgrown giving a damn, and so they speak their mind, although rarely in a forced, raunchy way, as in lesser films. For the most part, we stay away from the lazy Golden Years gags (there are no Viagra mishaps and no one fumbles with simple technology). Instead, the script gives into its morbid instincts, showing off cheesy ads for sending your loved ones off in a blaze of funeral fireworks and having its characters turn up at a stranger’s wake just for the hors d’oeuvres. By doing so, it constantly advocates laughter as being the unofficial sixth step in the grieving process.
Poms rises and falls by its character beats. Diane Keaton’s Martha is given the opportunity to display an emotional range we haven’t seen from the actress in quite a while as she struggles to keep her cheeky composure while slowing succumbing to terminal cancer. And Jacki Weaver, naturally, brings her signature joie de vivre and piercing smile to Sheryl, making her leap off the page. Other characters, however, are given little more than a name. It’s a shame to cast heavyweights like Rhea Perlman and Pam Grier in a film together and give them nearly nothing to do. Still, the principle players manage to form a palpable friendship, obviously having a ball in moments that were almost surely unscripted. It’s a delight to see these priceless women building each other up while playing to each other’s varied comic sensibilities in a dysfunctional yet endearing sisterhood.
Even when the film stumbles over tonal imbalance and pacing issues, it isn’t long before Poms finds another way to dig its hooks into you. The target audience for the film will spend almost the entire runtime with big, stupid grins on their face. It’s difficult not to allow yourself to be tickled by this refreshing tale of senior citizens gleefully refusing to act their age, and reclaiming their autonomy in the process.