After actually watching “Poms,” it’s safe to say that the best thing about this movie is the beef it inspired between Anjelica Huston and star Jacki Weaver, because if there’s any way to stay relevant in Hollywood, it’s by throwing a little shade (the more public, the better). And clearly — tragically — no one is writing enough good scripts to keep these talented women relevant. Lamenting the dearth of quality roles for older women in an incendiary Vulture interview, Huston gave as an example “an old-lady cheerleader movie,” calling such roles “apologetically humble and humiliating.” Firing back at the clear jab at her forthcoming project, Weaver responded that Huston could “go fuck herself.“
Unfortunately for Weaver, Huston was wise to sit this one out. Though her comments may have been mean-spirited (she has since apologized), Huston hit the nail on the head with “apologetically humble.” The characters in “Poms” are far from reality — not only of such acting legends but of any woman of a certain age — it’s easy to wonder if the writers have actually met anyone over the age of 65. What’s disheartening is that they almost certainly have, and what they see are these one-dimensional characters, long past their prime and waiting to die. There is not a single character who does not doubt herself or her ability to do this totally insane cheerleading thing, even as they each trade off being the rallying force for the rest of their failing and flailing comrades.
It seems that older women must apologize not only for wanting to feel good, but for wanting screen time. The central conflict of the movie — women in a retirement community have to fight for their right to cheerlead — is based on the premise that such a desire is totally out of character for anyone over the age of 18. Nevermind that when Martha (Diane Keaton) arrives at Sun Springs Active Retirement Community in Georgia, she is told she can form any club she wants if she does not find an existing one appealing.
“Poms” tries to position Martha as a New Yorker who has come to Georgia to die (relatable enough) by styling her in jeans and flannel button-ups, but nothing about Martha’s character, other than the fact that she wants to be left alone, screams New Yorker. Her next-door neighbor Sheryl (Weaver) needles her way in through sheer force of will, and the new friends hatch a plan to start a cheerleading club. They find their foil in a power-hungry Southern belle (played with fake syrupy sweetness by Celia Weston), who says they need eight members to form a group. Commence audition montage.
Into their merry band of senior rebels, Martha and Sheryl recruit Salsa-dancing Olive (Pam Grier), aerobics-inspired hip hop artist Ruby (Carol Sutton), recently widowed potential murder suspect Alice (Rhea Perlman), a baton twirler with an overbearing son (Phyllis Somerville), and a few others. For a little young blood, they rope in Sheryl’s grandson as their DJ (Charlie Tahan) and blackmail a teenager (Alisha Boe) into coaching them.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a studio comedy without a poorly kept secret; none of the girls know that Martha’s fervent leadership is fueled by the fact that she is dying of cancer. In between rehearsals, she steps away to vomit, even though we hear at the beginning of the film that she has decided to forego chemotherapy. (The cheesy music underscoring every tonal shift does its heaviest lifting here.)
“Poms” is the first narrative feature from documentarian Zara Hayes, who wrote the script with Shane Atkinson, making his feature debut. Neither have much background in comedy, and it shows; the dead air in the theater after Martha said “it’s cheerleading, not pole-dancing” was deafening, and the altering of “break a leg” to “break a hip” was similarly uninspired. If this is the best Hollywood can offer these women, it’s not their fault for wanting to work. Instead, it’s on writers and studios to stop treating seniors like some sort of oddities to squeeze a few laughs out of before they croak.
STX will release “Poms” in theaters on Friday, May 10.