Poms: Diane Keaton and Group of (Older) Cheerleaders

Can anyone write a decent role for Diane Keaton?  At 73, she is still an attractive, charming and skillful actress, particularly adept at comedy.

Over the past decade, Keaton has been making one embarrassing picture after another.  It may not be entirely a matter of choice, though other actors of her generation–Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange–have fared better in their selection of material, willing to take secondary and supporting roles or move onto the TV medium.

Last year, Keaton starred alongside Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen, all esteemed actresses, as a quartet of friends who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” at their monthly book club, and subsequently begin to change their views of personal relationships.

That romantic comedy–esseentially a star vehicle for Keaton–was dismissed by most critics, and barely recouped its budget at the box-office.

And now comes another crappy and embarrassing vehicle, Poms, albeit one with a less illustrious cast.  This time around, Keaton is heading an ensemble of second-tier actors from theater and TV, such as Jacki Weaver and Celia Weston.

A high concept picture–it’s never too late and you are never too old to be cheerleaders if you only set your mind to it–Poms wears is presumably progressive message on its sleeves.

Zara Hayes directs a stale story, based on a single idea: How a group of retired women who reclaim their vitality and challenge societal norms by forming a cheerleading squad.

Keaton plays Martha, a pessimist New York transplant, who lives in the peppy retirement community of Sun Springs, Georgia.  The ambience of this lavish site is based on maintaining cheerful attitudes and living laid back, overly relaxed lifestyle.

Can a cynical femme like Martha embrace those sentiments, even if her previous life in the Big City was defined by aloneness and loneliness.

Advancing age and, we learn, her terminal cancer have made Martha more pensive (if not smarter) and also more sentimental, looking back at her youth, and all the wrong choices and paths she has made.

Martha is at first reticent to make friends, preferring to cocoon herself in her pre-fab, standardized home instead of trying to fit in at group exercise and neighborhood get-togethers.

But her world begins to change once she meets next-door neighbor Sheryl (Jacki Weaver). Sheryl is Martha’s opposite with her colorful, tight-fitting wardrobe and vivacious free spirit, yet her vigor inspires Martha to rediscover her own.

The pair set out to form a cheerleading club, which is unheard of to their enclave’s residents, who include the unfriendly president of the welcoming committee, Vicki (Celia Weston).

The newly assembled squad must recruit more members, which they assume will be difficult, they must also get in competitive shape in a short period of time. In the process, the team is forced to battle their own physical limitations and a other setbacks, some comic, others more serious.

Poms goes out of its way to be both uplifting and endearing, but inevitably it shows its shallow, artificial packaging. It’s all about the need for self-empowerment and the ability to execute it.

Screenwriter Shane Atkinson and Hayes focus primarily on female friendship, though they undermine the capacity of another group of women: teen girls. Unfortunately, the seniors’ combative relationship with the high school cheerleaders, who film their failures and mock them, becomes the main conflict.

Sadly, Atkinson and Hayes have constructed narrowly defined women–each one marked by one dominant trait–resulting in a stereotypical portraiture on both the individual and collective levels.  (I wonder what the response would have been if male scribes had written such schlock).

It doesn’t help that there is no strong chemistry between the women, and that each exhibits a different acting style.

The tale strikes an overly sentimental note in describing Sheryl’s concern of whether the authorities find out that her teen grandson Ben (Charlie Tahan) is living with her.

And then there is the obligatory romance, here between Ben and classmate Chloe (Alisha Boe), who betrays her cheer team to help train his grandmother’s team (so much for peer group pressure).

The film is so haphazardly written and helmed that, at the end it, really doesn’t matter that it’s women, rather than men, who held power behind the cameras of this mildly amusing confection.