Martha (Diane Keaton) is dying. She has no partner, no children, not even a cat. Just a NYC apartment full of stuff she doesn’t need and one niggling regret. After selling off most of her worldly possessions and relocating to a senior’s retirement community in Georgia to die in a warm climate (where stupid hats are NOT optional), she knows exactly how she’ll spend her remaining days: cheerleading.
Sure it’s unconventional. But quilting and baking and playing bridge don’t really appeal to a woman like Martha. She’s been haunted her whole life by a childhood ambition that went unfulfilled, and if she doesn’t do it now she never will. And when she holds tryouts, it turns out that at least 7 other women wouldn’t mind humiliating themselves along with her – Jacki Weaver and Rhea Perlman included. And also Pam Grier, who quite possibly could never humiliate herself – she is a queen among peasants. No knock against anyone else, but Grier is the accidental sun in this solar system.
In many ways, this is a silly and frivolous film, one that won’t make any lasting impression on the world of cinema, and didn’t really make a dent in terms of sales. But I bet if you’re over 65, it might be nice to see an older person on film who isn’t just waiting to die, or to dispense their life’s advice to the young protagonist, but who is instead still pursuing dreams, still the protagonist in her own life. You may have heard that Anjelica Huston for some reason felt the need to take a shot at the film, which is unfortunate, because there are a lot of older ladies in Hollywood, and only about half a role to split between them. You’d think she might be a little more supportive. Perhaps she and her creaking hips were just jealous? I know why I’m jealous: there’s an old lady on the cheer squad who does the splits. And it’s pretty impressive that she can do the splits at her age, but it’s REALLY impressive that she can get back up out of the splits afterwards, unassisted. That’s who I’m jealous of. I’d be stuck FOR DAYS.
And I guess I’m jealous of anyone who knows their expiration date is approaching, and instead of living in fear, they just live. Martha uses her time. Instead of stewing in regret, she chooses joy.
The director, Zara Hayes, also chooses to slip some subtle messaging into the film about how we police women, and especially elderly women. How we default toward infantilization. While some older people will of course require care, they also, unfailingly, deserve respect. And it feels far too easy for an older woman to become disenfranchised and lose her power.
Poms is a sweet, well-intentioned film. The ladies make dreadful cheerleaders. I’m sorry, but it’s true. The movie really doesn’t glamourize old lady cheerleaders. Their moves are tame and lame and underwhelming, exactly as you’d expect them to be. But it’s the women’s verve and vitality that shines through. They’re not setting the world on fire with their dance moves or athleticism. But they’re not going gently into that good night. Until they’re dead, they’re alive. And in that way, it’s a very inspiring little film.