Jackie Weaver, Diane Keaton and Pam Grier in Poms (Photo: STX)

★★½ (out of four)
STARS Diane Keaton, Jackie Weaver

Say this about Diane Keaton: In addition to being one of the greatest actresses of the past half-century (she’ll celebrate 50 years in film in 2020), she’s also a tireless thespian, averaging at least one picture a year since, well, since making her debut in the uproarious 1970 comedy Lovers and Other Strangers (recently reviewed here). But if finding quality projects for women over 40 is hard, imagine how difficult it must be for someone over 60 or 70. Because of this bias, the 73-year-old Keaton has in recent times turned up in some truly wretched films, brain-damaging atrocities like Because I Said So and Love the Coopers.

It’s understandable to expect that Poms might fall into that camp of unwatchables. The premise sounds rather twee — a group of elderly women elects to form its own cheerleading squad — and history has taught us that all films like this predictably end with the underdogs snagging the top prize at some national championship competition. None of this is completely inaccurate when it comes to Poms, but neither is it the whole story.

For starters, Martha isn’t the usual chipper character essayed by Keaton. Instead, she’s a cranky septuagenarian who, faced with cancer, decides to head to a retirement community in order to die in peace. She gets reluctantly dragged back into the land of the living by her new neighbor Sheryl (Jackie Weaver), a cheerful sort who’s into “poker and poking” (but presumably not Pokémon). Since living in this community means Martha has to either join a club or create her own, she decides to start a cheerleading squad for senior ladies. She’s joined by Sheryl and six other residents (including one played by an all-too-infrequently used Pam Grier), but they soon discover that ageism might prevent them from engaging in even this seemingly simple pleasure.

Many of the conflicts are artificially manufactured and the comedy is often anemic (save for Weaver’s quips), but what rescues Poms from complete disarray and dysfunction is its surprisingly poignant examination of eight women who are ready to fade away in anonymity and old age, only to realize that they still retain some measure of import and urgency as human beings. It may sound trite, but Keaton and her co-stars manage to invest their roles with a genuine vitality that backs the movie’s dubious premise.

Despite that emotional edge, much of Poms is so stridently routine that here’s no guarantee you’ll laugh or cry. But like the picture’s leading ladies, you might cheer, even if just a little.

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