DON’T BE PUT off by the title of the new Diane Keaton film, Poms, and the bubble gum shallow American yarn it implies. Yes, all that glittery bubble gum stuff is there, enfolded in the story’s mix, but that’s probably not the main reason why you will love it and view it as an utter, unembarrassed tonic.
Poms is a tale of victory in the truest and most basic sense. It explores all the avenues and truths about girls who resort to total bitchiness in the face of odds as it contemplates with a bemused and objective eye, the complexities of old aged institutions. It’s about those tribal realities which sees girls toughen together against a common enemy, even if some of said girls boobs hang lower than others.
Meet Martha (Keaton). She’s the cipher through which the story is told. Armed with a recent ovarian cancer diagnosis, she’s a retired school teacher with no children of her own, and no partner in sight. She’s decided to pack up house and install herself in a facility for the elderly and quietly wait for the end.
Which she does. Only the last bit of this plan doesn’t go quite according to what she may have had in mind. The welcoming committee of the facility in question reflects distinctly on kindergarten bossiness, and all the different personas in a community context are revealed: the pecking order is clear from the bossiest down. Everyone’s loud and cliquey. Everything’s in bright colours and silly platitudes.
And then Martha meets Sheryl (Jacki Weaver). A woman who bemoans the sparseness of erections in a context mainly populated by widows, she hosts gambling gigs on the qt in her house. She’s a rule breaker, but essentially one with a difficult back story of her own. Sheryl discovers Martha’s old cheerleader jersey, whilst rumbling through her new friend’s stuff, as one does, and the die is cast.
And slowly, we get to meet all the wannabe cheerleaders who have some tango moves and pilates stretches under their belt or just love to boogie. Not to forget Alice (Rhea Perlman), who is so consumed with her bad marriage, poor body image and house of tsatskes, including a menorah on the mantelpiece that she has to be reconstituted, almost entirely. Perlman’s a delightful and oft underrated performer, but she gives so much flesh and self-deprecating blood to her character, you fall in love with her sense of inadequacy instantaneously.
Martha and Sheryl assemble a higgledy-piggledy bunch of team players, complete with knee replacements and sciatica, bladder fails and blood pressure issues, to say nothing of the one whose children won’t let her play with her friends, but the girls shall cheer, come hell or high water.
The work is framed along the edges of a predictable hero tale, considering the cut throat competitiveness of the contemporary cheerleading industry, with the youth, head to head with the elderly, as its core. Many other characters and the whims and frailties of old people are part of the mix, and you know, from the first two minutes of the work, how it ends, but that doesn’t matter.
Beautifully cast, Poms will have you overflowing with tears of victory as you understand the women and the girls who populate it.
- Poms is directed by Zara Hayes and features a cast headed by John Atwood, Karen Beyer, Sharon Blackwood, Alisha Boe, Jacqueline Clay Chester, Suehyla El-Attar, Alexandra Ficken, Patricia French, Charles Green, Pam Grier, Annie Jacob, Diane Keaton, Ginny MacColl, David Maldonado, Bruce McGill, Angela Mitchell Kronenberg, Leon Lamar, Robert Larriviere, Afemo Omilami, Rhea Perlman, Jessica Roth, Phyllis Somerville, Dorothy Steel, Carol Sutton, Charlie Tahan, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Jacki Weaver and Celia Weston. It is written by Shane Atkinson and Zara Hayes, and, produced by Andy Evans, Rose Ganguzza, Celyn Jones, Sean Marley, Kelly McCormick, Alex Sakes and Ade Shannon, it features creative input by Deborah Lurie (music), Tim Orr (cinematography), Annette Davey (editing), Marisol Roncall and Mary Vernieu (casting), Celine Diano (production design) and Amanda Ford (costumes). Release date, through Cinema Nouveau, Ster Kinekor in South Africa: May 10 2019.