In theory, I would absolutely love to see a comedy starring Diane Keaton, Pam Grier, and Rhea Perlman that hits out against the agist, sexist societal impulses that seek to relegate women into some sort of cosmic cast-off pile once they’re deemed “too old” to be appreciated (read: objectified). Lord only knows what they have seen and experienced during their time in the film industry. Unfortunately, we live in a world where Poms — an antiseptic but amiable feature from Zara Hayes, who before this primarily helmed documentaries — is the version studios have foisted upon us.
There’s nothing wrong with light-hearted escapism (clearly we need it in 2019), but Poms misses the mark with its lazy paint-by-numbers approach and thoroughly corporate conception of rah-rah feminism. It’s as if everyone’s favorite multi-level marketing company — I don’t want to name names, but it sells a whole lot of leggings and is currently going through bankruptcy — decided to branch out into film production. The resulting product is threadbare and disappointing, but semi-enthusiastically peddled by women to women using flimsy hashtags and “empowering” messaging on behalf of cynical executives.
On to the plot particulars. Here, Diane Keaton takes on yet another thankless leading role as Martha, some sort of vaguely bohemian flea market flipper who has already found out she’s dying from some sort of vaguely alluded-to cancer by the time we meet her in New York City. Dressed like she’s just stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue, she calls her doctor and explains that she won’t be coming in for any more treatments, quickly hops in her Subaru (one of many prominent product placements — hope you also like Sprite) and hits the highway, headed to Georgia in one of the film’s many inexplicable plot developments.
All we know about her by the time she pulls into the golf cart-laden parking lot of her new retirement community, Sun Springs, is that she’s clearly not the type of woman who’s going to enjoy making small talk after water aerobics or over a game of bridge. Her out-of-left-field end-of-life choice is never explained, and it definitely feels strange when she suddenly softens and lets her nosy new neighbor (Jacki Weaver as Sheryl, a septuagenarian Samantha Jones type, if you need a bit of shorthand) know that one of her life’s unrealized ambitions was to be … a high school cheerleader?
Still, her conversation with Sheryl sparks something in Martha, and suddenly the pair are auditioning community members for an all-senior cheer team. After sparsely attended tryouts, they manage to round up a few eager recruits against the wishes of Vicki (Sun Springs’ resident villain, played by Celia Weston), who lets them know in a sickly-sweet Southern drawl that she will not stand for this kind of nonsense. Before they know it, they’ve got people talking with their disastrous routine that goes viral on YouTube, and no one knows if Martha’s dying wish to compete in the big cheerleading tournament will come true…
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but I guess I’ll take a cue from the film’s montage-heavy editing style and just cut to the grand finale, where predictably the team charms the judges at a big cheerleading competition ahead of a manipulative epilogue that would be tear-jerking, had we gotten to know any of these women well enough to be fully invested. It also doesn’t help that the film can’t tell whether it wants to go super dark (with Perlman’s character, in particular) or super Lifetime (every quick scene of Martha doubled over in pain in her bathroom) — nothing inherently wrong with either type of film, but rather jarring to see stitched together.
I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt, but it turns out one should trust Anjelica Huston (the film’s most public detractor) on such matters.