Poms (Hayes, 2019)

Anyone who watches Poms will manage to crack a smile a few times, even if they recognize internally that they’re smiling at shtick that isn’t particularly intelligent. It’s humour that’s meant to be broad and instantly digestible, like one punchline early on that explains why a woman got second place at a talent contest in the ‘50s (the winner “had sex with the judges”—of course). It’s not just the humour that’s broad, though. Everything from the characters to the setup exists without much specificity. The retirement community Diane Keaton’s character moves to is a generic amalgamation of what everyone assumes a retirement community is supposed to be like, with ingratiating neighbours and an in-built hierarchy for self-important residents. Everyone gets around in golf carts; people are expected to join social clubs, and so forth. Keaton’s character is a generic cancer sufferer on her last legs, so indifferently written that I can’t even recall what cancer she has, or if it’s even mentioned in the film at all. Jacki Weaver, meanwhile, plays her hyperactive sidekick, who is characterized primarily for being sexually promiscuous and loudly opinionated. Keaton and Weaver are not bad here and do their best to overcome the script’s inability to transcend its base clichés, but I could frequently sense their hearts weren’t completely in it (Keaton’s especially).

What irks me most about this film is that, while it’s premised on empowering elderly women to overcome the barriers of age and physical frailty, it’s not especially interested in granting them complete autonomy. They are always at the mercy of what others think of them, be it younger generations, their overprotective children, or their own mistrusting peers. The clichés and oversimplifications that they should be combating are nevertheless continually reinforced, and while they’re able to triumph in the end and one-up their doubters, the audience still leaves the theatre with sentiments of frivolous, raunchy old grannies who remain nothing more than “cute” and “crazy” characters to be giggled over (as several extremely annoying audience members did behind me throughout the entire film). The film asks us to respect them, but how can we when it still wants us to laugh at their antics? Furthermore, practically none of the supporting members of the cheerleading squad get discernible personalities of their own—or even many lines. The great Pam Grier, for instance, is stuck in a role so interchangeable with the others that you can hardly believe she once headlined a Quentin Tarantino movie. Why should we bother to invest our feelings here if the script doesn’t even want to bother treating several of its characters like actual human beings?

I get it: this film exists to make older generations feel good about themselves, come what may. No one need expect Fellini-level filmmaking to achieve that. But at the same time, these audiences do deserve to expect a little more from their entertainment. They should, at the very least, ask for characters with a decent level of personal development and interiorities that match their own, rather than characters that exist solely as punchlines or props. It’s not a hard thing to do! Poms, unfortunately, seems like it was dashed off to ride on the back of Book Club’s success, which is why it’s undeniably the inferior venture. I hope the next “installment” does a better job, but I remain skeptical.