From the moment the house lights went down, the opening monologue that Martha (Diane Keaton) uses to convey what type of film “Poms” ultimately becomes, I knew I was in for a treat.
There was an energy, which I haven’t felt from a movie in a while that Zara Hayes’s theatrical debut just releases within the first few minutes. It grabs at you and doesn’t let you go for another 88 minutes.
Now, you might be asking why I’m talking about jolts of electricity when the description for “Poms” features ‘retirement community.’ That’s because the screenplay by Hayes and Shane Atkinson (“Penny Dreadful”) works very hard to make us forget the ‘retirement’ portion of that statement.
The film begins with the end in mind as Martha packs up her apartment, selling those items that she doesn’t want. That jolt of electricity that I mentioned is from Hayes and Atkinson’s injections of humor from the very opening frame. Martha is a no-nonsense, typical New Yorker, but we can tell that something is weighing on her.
Hayes and Atkinson don’t skirt over that aspect. In fact, it becomes a part of her character as she starts a new journey at the Sun Springs Retirement Community in rural Georgia. When she arrives, the welcoming committee is there to greet her with wider arms than she was looking for. Vicki (Celia Weston) in the lead, they proceed to take a tour of the . . . campus. There are very well manicured lawns and tennis courts, and bowling alleys and lots of activities to keep everyone engaged.
Then there are the clubs (activities). That’s the one official rule of Sun Springs – everyone is required to join a club. If there isn’t a club for you, you can start your own. That’s exactly what Martha goes about doing with her rambunctious next door neighbor, Sheryl (Jackie Weaver).
In an “Odd Couple” way, Martha and Sheryl work, even though they shouldn’t. Sheryl, in addition to being rambunctious, also breaks conventional rules, while Martha has that New Yorker spirit in her – she likes her privacy, but is willing to do what it takes.
Sheryl finds an old cheerleading uniform in Martha’s belongings and the rest is film history. It is the inspiration for a call-out to the community to form a cheerleading squad. Of course, they encounter resistance to their idea, both in the form of an ongoing feud between the association and the squad and the overprotective son of one of the squad’s members.
Throughout all of Martha’s and Sheryl’s foibles and adventures, there is a genuine laughter, an electricity that made me feel young at heart. Part of that electricity is also from the supporting cast. Pam Grier is a hoot as a married woman who doesn’t mind putting herself out there. Rhea Perlman plays Alice, a very cloistered individual, who like the tree at the beginning of the film, is planted and grows. As much a credit to Ms. Perlman’s performance as it is the direction, she grew the most out of all the supporting characters.
Bruce McGill plays the community’s security officer. He has a badge and he has a nameplate and that’s about it, but he’s along for the ride and his character is just a lot of fun.
One of the other aspects of Hayes’ and Atkinson’s story is the merging of generations. Sheryl’s grandson (Charlie Tahan) lives with her, against the community regulations and he has a crush on the lead of the high school’s pom squad (Alisha Boe). Through a convenient mishap, they eventually join forces, rounding out that ‘electricity’ feeling I keep thinking about.
Some will see the advertising for this film and probably misjudge its intentions. There are somber moments in the film, because it is set in a retirement community, but the story doesn’t act like it’s a billboard for a retirement community.
The strength in “Poms” are the characters and their drive to be something more than the sum of their parts. It’s rather amusing and embarrassing, but before the film even started, I was talking with a fellow critic and I mentioned that the marketing had the appearance of being a “Bring It On” for the advanced generation. I’m embarrassed because I realized just how wrong the “advanced age” part of that statement is, but how appropriate and true it is to the spirit of the film. It truly is the film’s wisdom that sparked the energy I felt.
3 out of 4