Every Mother’s Day sees the release of a film that is purposefully geared toward “See this with your mom or grandma or aunt or mother-in-law or other female life figure of note!”— and that is very clearly what Poms is. The early press screening I attended was packed with duos and trios of women celebrating the holiday a few days beforehand, and they had a grand old time, waving blue and white pom-poms at the screen. The movie underperformed at the box office, but I can see it having a long run in theaters; Poms is the perfect sort of weekday matinee for a certain crowd.
SPOILERS FOR POMS FOLLOW, IF YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT THAT SORT OF THING
And I must tell you that Poms has one great thing going for it: Jacki Weaver! Oh, Jacki Weaver is an exceptional delight as Sheryl, a woman who is a little too loud, a little too flirty, a little too gaudy for Sun Springs, the surprisingly strait-laced retirement community where she lives in Georgia. The place is ruled with a iron fist by Vicki (Celia Weston, who you may recognize from playing Cam’s boundary-ignoring mother in Modern Family), who wants the community to project a certain properness and preppiness, and Sheryl just won’t abide that. She has too much personality to fit into a stereotypical box of Southern etiquette.
Sheryl’s lawn is overly decorated; her outfits are a riot of color; she has plastic baggies in every purse so that when she attends a funeral in the community, she can save cold cuts and shrimp and other items from the reception spread for later.
She hosts a poker night that gets out of control nearly every week (“My only talents are poker and poking,” she jokes); she talks openly about men she’s sleeping with; and although she’s a substitute teacher at a nearby school, her lesson plan is always to put in a sexual education video instead of doing any actual work. She is the perfect mixture of someone who cares deeply about herself and those she loves but very little about rules or decorum, and that same DGAF energy permeates throughout Poms.
The best moments in the film are those where the women, expectedly or not, refuse to acquiesce to other people’s expectations. Diane Keaton’s Martha is refusing cancer treatment because she has accepted how she wants to die, and she’ll do it on her own terms. Rhea Perlman’s Alice killed her husband after a lifetime of putting up with his emotional abuse (and obsession with golf). Phyllis Somerville’s Helen is a victim of her son’s elder abuse; he refuses to give her $100 to join Martha and Sheryl’s cheerleading club, he bans her from seeing her friends, and he tries to keep her hostage within her home. When the other Poms members bust Helen out, her middle finger to her son is the movie’s purest expression of joy.
Helen’s son is a conduit for most of the film’s rage against men, while a group of teenage cheerleaders are the film’s representation of youthful narcissism and ageism. When one of those young women, Chloe (Alisha Boe), is blackmailed by Martha and Sheryl into helping their Poms group improve, she eventually grows to see these women as grandmother figures for her—especially Sheryl. Sheryl grows close to Chloe; sees how her grandson Ben (Charlie Tahan) is friendly toward her in a way he isn’t to others; and when Helen’s son barges into a practice to attack the group and calls Chloe a “little slut,” Sheryl about goes nuclear.
Her repeated demands of “What did you say to her?” irritate the man, anger him, and then eventually shame him; she’s not afraid to get into his face, advancing closer and closer, until he retreats. His fleeing from the situation is cowardice, but also a realization that a woman like Sheryl is not going to back down. It’s the same energy Sheryl gives off when standing up to the teenage cheerleaders, too; when one of them snipes at the women to “Break a hip!” Sheryl whips back with a “Get pregnant!” See for yourself!
If you’ve paid attention to Weaver’s career, you know this brassy bossiness is what she does quite well; recall her role as Elizabeth Debicki’s abusive mother in Widows, or her work alongside Joel Edgerton and Ben Mendelsohn in the original Australian crime family film Animal Kingdom. But Poms is different in that her power doesn’t come from manipulating other people, but defending them; there’s a sincerity here that I didn’t expect from Weaver, but that I quite enjoyed. Alongside Keaton, who I’m not sure is acting in Poms so much as she showed up onset in her own outfits and just improv-ed scenes as she went, Weaver adds a liveliness and insolence that takes Poms in places I didn’t quite expect for what was clearly a Mother’s Day cash-grab, but that I’m still laughing about a week later. All hail Jacki Weaver, a real one.
Image sources (in order of posting): Epk.tv/STXfilms, Epk.tv/STXfilms