|'Poms': Something to Cheer About|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
03:07PM / Thursday, May 16, 2019
The philosophical gist of "Poms," a rootin'-tootin' homage to Baby Boomer relevance about a former cheerleader who forms a cheer leading squad at her retirement community, reminded me of an illuminating exchange I had with my wife, Joanne, about 20 years ago.
We were driving across the Neversink River in New York's Sullivan County on the way to our daughter's summer camp when The Rolling Stones's "You Can't Always Get What You Want" came on the radio. Funny how you remember where you were during epiphanic moments. Well, it occasioned me to opine, somewhat resignedly, "Could you imagine, we'll be in the old age home someday and Mick Jagger will come to entertain?" I was completely surprised when, with an optimistic lilt in her voice, she quickly and enthusiastically responded, "Cool."
Perhaps it's that sort of heartening way of looking at things that spurs Diane Keaton's Martha to make waves among the fuddy-duddy establishment at her new digs. While the powers that be at Sun Springs espouse a fun-for-all atmosphere, truth is that grand poohbah Vicki, played with comic wickedness by Celia Watson, likes to keep things status quo. Of course you know where this is going. Add a motley cast of familiar ladies, all with an individual bugaboo that just might be ameliorated via some female bonding and a lot of vigorous pom-pom shaking, and there you have the scenario.
True, the formulaic manipulation is obvious. But that's what you sign on for, the tacit agreement you make to heartily invoke some suspension of disbelief in return for a healthy jolt of human spirit. And don't worry: Director Zara Hayes, working from a script she wrote with Shane Atkinson, doesn't take you for granted. In return for the willingness to have your soul tossed about in the name of greater understanding, she recompenses with several funny moments, a rather thoughtful look at advancing age and even a surprise or two just to keep you on your feet.
But the key here is Keaton. Ever still the never completely figured out Annie Hall, her Martha is anything but typical. Allowing only so much of herself to be divulged, the former teacher with no past life partner — at least not one we're made privy to — remains a bit of a mystery. What we are sure of, however, is her determination and an altruistic sense of right and wrong. She exudes a likableness not in a soft and fuzzy way, but through our respect for the je ne sais quoi that shapes her inner strength.
Thus it only follows that the establishment of a cheerleading squad that goes against the grain of those who would keep these gals in their pigeonholes is actually a metaphor about leadership and what it takes to stir people into action. But no need to get too cerebral about it, either. On the way to the noble principles neatly embroidered into the script, there is a modicum of uplifting, girly-girly, feminine compatriotism. It's summed up neatly when the authoritarian Vicki asks Martha who they'll be cheering for? "Ourselves," responds Martha.
While Jackie Weaver as Sheryl, Martha's libidinous next-door neighbor, helps spin the story within the story, it's the gaggle of latter-day cheerleaders who establish the tale's winning conviviality. The smattering of types, while stereotypical en masse, is redeemed by the individual bits of shtick each lady imparts. Particularly humorous is a rather deadpan portrayal by Rhea Pearlman as Alice, the golf widow whose domineering husband says the only way she'd be able to take up cheerleading would be over his dead body. No real spoiler here, that scene and the followup are in the trailer.
But while the coincidental liberation of Alice is humorously macabre, it actually signals "Poms' " vital subtext. For in the process of singing a paean to the preciousness of life in the golden years, the film is a dead serious reminder that while we've indeed come a long way, baby, we Americans are still a shameful distance from securing equal rights for women.
So although Martha and her intrepid sisters are fighting for the right to express their joie de vie through cheerleading, in reality their crusade is an all-encompassing petition to human logic. In jest there being truth, their travail should remind all thinking viewers that if we are to ever consider ourselves a civilized society, there is still a sizable list of issues, from reproductive rights to equal pay for equal work to a realistic maternity leave law, etc., etc., that need addressing. And that's worth a good hip, hip, hooray.
"Poms," rated PG-13, is an STX Entertainment release directed by Zara Hayes and stars Diane Keaton, Jackie Weaver and Celia Watson. Running time: 91 minutes