Released: 9th May
Seen: 10th May
One of the things that infuriate me more than anything else in a film is wasted potential. More than just being offensive or immoral or incompetent, a film that clearly has some potential for something good but decides to waste it in favour of coasting by on the superficial extras that they’ve thrown at their movie. A film that relies on specific actors or cool effects or using obscenities like commas in order to hide a bad script or plot structure when there is plenty there to work with, had someone taken the time, is the worst sin that a film can commit as far as I’m concerned. So when I tell you that this film had so much potential and wasted almost all of it, that’s your warning to run away.
Poms tells the story of a little retirement village and a woman called Martha (Diane Keaton) who has moved there with the express intention to die since she’s been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has decided to forgo treatment in favour of a slow painful death. She moves in and meets her new neighbour, Sheryl (Jacki Weaver), a free-spirited substitute teacher with the mouth of a sailor and probably a sailor strapped to her bedpost. They eventually become friends and, after a late night drink and chat, Martha reveals that she was a cheerleader back in high school but never got to perform. In a moment of inspiration, they decide to create a cheerleading club in their own little retirement village so they can perform at the talent show that year, but will they be able to do it and will their physical limitations make it impossible for them to make the big show.
The script follows a very similar plot to every high school sports movie that you remember. Team of underdogs get together, there’s a bully who fights against them, the system doesn’t want them but they practice and rehearse in secret and force their way onto the field where they show everyone how good they are and win the respect of their peers. It’s a simple formula that honestly should work here since we’re throwing a high school formula into a retirement home, there’s real potential there. If nothing else, you could get a cast of 60-something actors who only get work as grandmas and let them have fun. I genuinely love when movies allow older actors to do something fun and silly but this film doesn’t go all the way with that idea at any point. It doesn’t even try to make the very standard plot flow naturally, it just checks off the key moments as it goes along. A person is put on bed rest because we’ve hit the part of the movie where they’re down a member, someone quits a high school cheer squad to coach them because we’ve hit the moment where a decision between the heart and prior commitments happens. It’s formulaic without bothering to do the in-between parts that make formulas work.
They also really can’t decide what the conflict of the film is going to be. Is it going to be the retirement village’s sheriff who really wants to catch people breaking the rules? Is it the popular person who is also clearly a bitch that no one confronts because she’s too powerful? Is it the son of one of the people on the team, basically doing the stand-in for the parent who ground their child? Or maybe it’ll be the rules committee of the big show… PSYCHE! It’s none of them because none of them has enough impact on the plot to matter in any substantial way. They’re obstacles in the same way that a small puddle on the sidewalk is an obstacle; you can literally just step over it without any consequences of any kind. If there is any kind of movie that should have an overly cartoonish villain that’s trying to hold the main characters back, it’s a movie like this. No, can’t do that, have to play it so safe that it’s pitiful. Hell, Vicki (Celia Weston) is the popular bitch who runs everything and she would’ve been a perfect villain for them to come up against but she only really is a problem in 2 scenes and they literally just ignore her. They could’ve kept using Helen’s son (Helen’s played by Phyllis Somerville, her son is played by David Maldonado) to be more of an antagonist since his small role in the film lends itself to telling a story about elder abuse as his character takes it upon himself to control everything his mother does and her big character growth moment revolves around getting him off her back but again, 2-3 scenes and they just mow him over like he’s nothing. This doesn’t make them tough women; this makes the story lack compelling conflict to give us a reason to give a damn.
The shameful part is that these are some great performers, some of the best we’ve ever had. Rhea Perlman has the kind of legendary comedic chops that you can throw any line you want at her and she’ll knock it out of the park but here they basically give her nothing. You had freaking Carla Tortelli from Cheers and put her in the background? What the hell is wrong with you? You have Pam Grier, AKA the definitive blaxploitation badass woman who could kick every ass without even breaking a sweat and you give her nothing whatsoever to do? She has flirty scenes with her husband and that’s it, can she slap someone? Make a joke? Be given screen time? The only cast member who comes out of this with something actually meaty to chew on is Jacki Weaver, through sheer force of personality alone. It’s not like she’s given any good jokes but whatever she has she delivers with gusto and her effervescent joy is contagious, just like the measles. And much like the measles, this movie should’ve been eradicated long ago but idiots continue to let it keep going.
Look, this movie clearly was never going to work. One look at the trailer told most people that this was going to suck and it did, but it didn’t have to suck this bad. Some better editing and a better script, we could be talking about a comedy classic that would celebrate the women involved. This cast deserved better because we should be getting a lot more films with older people being given fun interesting characters and we’re just not getting that. I will say, the part of this movie I did like was when I was walking out and heard some elderly people talking about forming their own cheerleader squad. Sure, they were probably joking (would’ve been the first joke since the movie started) but maybe this film will have a good impact on that specific audience. While I don’t think it works on a structural level, it’s still a form of representation and I am personally well aware of how forgiving one can be about a movie when they feel represented. I just hate that I didn’t like this film at all because I want to encourage this kind of representation in film… just not in a film this bad.