I appreciate it when movies are short, especially bad movies like “Poms.” But “Poms” would have been better if it had taken more time to establish the characters and their motivations — if it had actually told a story, in other words, like a real movie, instead of just squirting a bunch of faux-sentimental ideas on the screen and trusting that people who only see one or two movies a decade would find it charming. Well, I don’t find it charming, and I see one or two movies A YEAR.
It’s the story of Martha (Diane Keaton), a senior citizen who learns she has cancer, sells her stuff, and moves from New York to a retirement community in Georgia called Sun Springs to run out the clock. She tells no one about the cancer and refuses all treatment; fortunately, it’s the mild kind of cancer where the only symptom is occasional vomiting and then, at the end of the movie, sudden, offscreen death. No explanation is given for any of her actions; they are simply What She Does.
What She Does at Sun Springs is start a cheerleading club. Seems Martha had to drop out of high school cheerleading to care for her sick mother, and now her earthy new neighbor, Sheryl (Jacki Weaver), who was a nuisance at first and then suddenly a friend, encourages her to take it up again. But Vicki (Celia Weston), the officious Southern belle who’s president of the Sun Springs government, says NUH-UH you may NOT have a cheerleading club because you are old ladies and you will break your hips! (Vicki’s real objection is that she doesn’t like Sheryl for reasons the movie forgot to think of.)
They start the club anyway, rounding up Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman, and four nobodies in a montage of unfunny tryouts. They rehearse semi-disastrously, pausing to list all of their respective physical limitations but not to give the club members names or personalities. Sheryl’s teenage grandson, Ben (Charlie Tahan), arranges for them to perform at his high school, where their performance is filmed and uploaded and goes humiliatingly viral even though it’s not THAT bad. I mean, it’s not good, but it’s not hilariously bad, you know? A team of elderly cheerleaders would have to be a lot worse than this to go viral, is all I’m saying.
Anyway, they disband the club in embarrassment, then get a pep talk and regroup, then bring in Ben’s snotty crush (Alisha Boe) to choreograph their routine, then perform at the Big Cheerleading Competition, where they blow everyone away by moving more or less in unison as they perform their simple, unchallenging steps and do so without falling down, hooray for them, the end.
Rhea Perlman’s character is a repressed housewife who’s only allowed to join the club over her husband’s dead body, a dark, farcical plot device that is never given its due and is out of place in an otherwise down-to-earth (if not exactly “realistic”) story. Another group member (Phyllis Somerville) has a bullheaded son who controls her life and finances and won’t let her join, and who insults the teenage choreographer to her face so that the women can shout him down and have an easy Girl Power moment. Director Zara Hayes, a documentarian moving to fiction who co-wrote the screenplay with first-timer Shane Atkinson, wants the whole thing to be about women (especially older women) empowering themselves, but every aspect of the story is rushed and half-baked. The relationships among the women are assumed rather than established; everything happens in montage, or between scenes. After they come to her defense, the teen choreographer tells the women they’re like grandmothers to her, and you think: When did that happen?! It’s a classic case of assembling a team of likable, familiar actors and assuming the movie will write and direct itself.
D (1 hr., 31 min.; )