As the Baby Boomer generation advanced toward retirement age, an entire new industry was born, dedicated to enticing the aging population to look forward to their golden years. Travel companies, social clubs, and senior living communities sprouted up around the country and have turned retirement into something to get excited about.
It makes sense, then, that movies and TV shows about seniors would also be on the rise. In the 1980s, it was “Cocoon” and “The Golden Girls” that proved old folks could still have fun. But more than 30 years later, “Poms” is only the latest in what is now its own subgenre: the retiree comedy.
Diane Keaton stars as Martha, a teacher from New York who retires to the sprawling Sun Springs community in Georgia. Sun Springs boasts spacious houses and yards, multiple golf courses, movie theaters, bowling alleys. Martha left New York with a burning need to simplify her life after a cancer diagnosis. She never had children and leaves no one behind when she packs up her car and heads south. Sun Springs is an odd choice for the woman who wants to shut out the world.
“Poms” unfolds into an entertaining romp, but it never goes beyond simply pleasant and fun. One of the earliest inclinations is with Martha’s complete lack of development prior to her arrival at Sun Springs. But the moment she arrives, she is greeted by the apparently self-appointed Welcoming Committee led by resident Mean Girl Vicki (Celia Weston).
Besides the usual noise ordinances and rules about Christmas lights, Vicki’s Sun Springs has one other rule. Every resident is required to join at least one of the more than 100 clubs. This is, of course, the catalyst that leads to the formation of the Cheerleading Club, which new neighbor Sheryl (Jacki Weaver) hopes will help Martha live out a long unfulfilled dream.
Weaver is easily the best part of “Poms.” She is effervescent, brimming with enthusiasm, charisma, and kindness. The Cheerleading Club may start as a way to get Martha out of her shell, but Sheryl is the one that keeps everyone together and Weaver is perfect.
The collection of ladies that join the club are fun and funny, too. Rhea Perlman is Alice, a woman whose overbearing husband has robbed her of years of hobbies and friendships. Pam Grier, Carol Sutton, Phyllis Somerville, Patricia French, Ginny MacColl, and Sharon Blackwood make up the rest of the team. Some get more screen time than others, but each of these ladies gets to have her own distinct personality, motivation, and ailments. Not one feels generic or shoehorned in to fill up space.
The story is frothy and light, cracking jokes about everything from rampant STDs among seniors to the notion that all old ladies want to join quilting bees. “Poms” also dips into more serious issues too, like overbearing sons who convince themselves they’re working in Mom’s best interest.
There is a strange plot element that puts the Sun Springs Cheerleaders into the path of the local high school cheer squad. The girls get weirdly vicious toward the old ladies, mocking their lack of coordination and skill. This is a trope that seems to pop up in a lot of these types of movies, where younger girls are unnecessarily mean to the older protagonists. It’s a trope that doesn’t make sense, because, in reality, teenage girls are much more likely to condescendingly declare the old ladies “adorable” and treat them like pets rather than pariahs.
But director Zara Hayes and writer Shane Atkinson use it as an easy step toward advancing their plot and thus give the ladies challenges from every direction. As if their own self-doubt and anxiety weren’t enough already.
Like last year’s “Book Club,” or “Finding Your Feet,” “Poms” is the kind of harmless fun that isn’t out to change cinema. Instead, it seeks to join the collection of entertaining movies that remind us that life doesn’t end at 65.