The very first thing wrong with Poms (and there are many things wrong with Poms) is the prologue that sets up the premise for the setting of Diane Keaton’s latest misfire: in a voice-over, Keaton’s Martha shares that she’s lived in her New York City apartment for forty-six years and, without kids to pass anything on to when she dies, she’s selling it all and leaving the city to spend the end of her life at a retirement community in Georgia.
An apparently self-sufficient, reasonably successful and well-off (based on her attire and appearance, at least) woman with nearly five decades of a life in the Big Apple just ups and leaves it all behind? Even if we buy that it’s because she’s dying (no spoilers here, her cancer diagnosis is revealed very early on) and wants to retreat to a quiet life away from the hustle and bustle…why an uptight, rules-heavy elderly subdivision in Georgia, of all places? (Georgia, coincidentally, is not having a good week.) Treat yourself to an ashram in India or a hut on the beach in Bali or something, woman!
But that would be a very different movie, of course, and Poms is nothing if non-threatening Americanized schlock. Written by Shane Atkinson and directed by Zara Hayed (who also gets a Story By credit), the film is constructed as if spit out from a movie-making factory off some dark alley in Hollywood, where all the beats are hit whether we like it or not and all the potential of Keaton and crew is squandered. It’s a credit to this grand dame of film that she can do anything at all with material so stiff and uninvested in its own success; unfortunately, even her divine talents (and the best efforts of the ensemble, including Rhea Pearlman, Pam Grier and Phyllis Somerville) can’t salvage anything from this wreckage.
The cliches come hard and fast in Poms, beginning with a holier-than-thou welcoming committee who’ll prove to be this film’s version of a villain (everyone must join a social club, or create one of their own!) and Sheryl (a delightfully bubbly Jacki Weaver), Martha’s horny neighbor who likes to break all the rules (what a rebel!). The plot kicks into high gear when, over a bonding moment about as sentimental as a root canal, Martha recounts how she tried and tried to land a spot on her cheerleading squad but didn’t make it until her senior year in high school…which is when her own mother got sick, and she had to quit the team before the first practice. The cross she’s had to bear!
Where things go from here is as predictable as…well, as a film like Poms, that never once tries to subvert expectations or scratch beneath the surface for an interesting angle on the story it’s trying to tell. Martha and Sheryl create a cheerleading squad (cue the tryouts montage), fumble through rehearsals, miss a big break…you get the idea. If there’s one interesting subplot in the film (and we’re grasping at straws here), it’s that of the movie’s two youngest characters, Sheryl’s grandson Ben (Charlie Tahan, “Ozark”) and his high school classmate Chloe (Alisha Boe, “13 Reasons Why”), each facing their own obstacles in that jungle that is adolescence. Is it ageist of me to wish we’d been watching their movie instead?
Somewhere buried in the film’s offensively oversimplified themes of female friendship, facing the haters and confronting our own mortality, Weaver delivers a doozie of a line after Martha reveals her diagnosis. “You were dying yesterday,” she says, “and you’ll be dying next week. In the meantime, you should be dancing your ass off.”
Yes, dance your ass off indeed. Instead of seeing Poms.
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