Diane Keaton hasn’t exactly been scarce of late, but it’s been nearly 10 years — 2010’s enjoyable studio comedy Morning Glory — since I’ve seen her work. (I heard her in Finding Dory.) To be honest, it’s thanks to residual skepticism after the inexplicably beloved Something’s Gotta Give and The Family Stone, whose narratives ping-ponged between listless lifestyle porn and bloated melodrama and whose deployment of Keaton amounted to sad-but-sexy senior and one-dimensional harridan. Nothing much of the reliable wiliness, razor-sharp wit or relatable weariness for which Keaton known and the reason why I skipped Because I Said So, Mad Money, The Big Wedding and a handful of others.
Good authority suggests Book Club is just fine, but Poms represents a reasonable return of Keaton into my moviegoing consciousness. She plays Martha, a lifelong city gal who sells her belongings and moves to a retirement community. “I’m just here to die,” Keaton quips in only the way she can when she’s more sized up than greeted by the community’s welcoming committee.
We know Martha’s not joking, as her plan is to forgo chemotherapy after a cancer diagnosis. Later, we learn why. Caretaking hasn’t gone well in Martha’s family, for whose poor health she abandoned a dream of high-school cheerleading. Martha’s uniform is among her last remaining possessions she brought to this place, where framed pictures of strangers sit on the shelves of furnished apartments and go unremarked on by the characters.
Shaking off her loneliness, Martha decides to start a cheerleading club. Poms’ variation on the clique clash of its ilk is that social-butterfly bigwig Vicki (Celia Weston) thinks the club is ridiculous and tries to quash it. That doesn’t deter Martha or revved-engine neighbor Vicki (Jacki Weaver, the pip Poms needs) from persisting and enlisting six fellow residents, including Rhea Perlman as a repressed wallflower, Pam Grier as a tango-dancing transfer and Phyllis Somerville as an old-money baton twirler. (Rebounding from her work on that sequence in Spider-Man 3, Marguerite Derricks serves as choreographer.)
Given Martha’s cancer, three funerals, unique cremation advertisements and an STD video that ends on an oddly tuneful note about HIV, Poms is a morbid senior-citizen comedy — sometimes uncomfortably so; it’s suggested one of the women kills her obstructionist husband to join the club. Throw in the most awkward invocation of the word “rape” as a punchline since Hudson Hawk, and the early going will make you wonder: What the hell is happening here?
Thankfully, Shane Atkinson’s script settles down into the sadder but wiser lives these women lead and the joy of revived verve. (Keaton and Weaver also pack dramatic wallop when it matters, putting meat on the moroseness.) There’s no lame romantic subplot (Bruce McGill has the only male role of note as a security chief) and Poms isn’t disdainful of teenagers in its story — Charlie Tahan as Sheryl’s latchkey grandson and Alisha Boe as a younger cheerleader who gains some humility. The movie understands people of any age are capable of petty or peevish behavior, but also prompted into better decisions by those who remain patient with them.
Sure, director Zara Hayes cuts away to a golf-cart horn honk whenever things get too heavy. And I’m no doctor, but wouldn’t sciatica make the splits tough to pull off? Poms takes a while to find its steps — Squad Goals might have made a more fitting title — but it finds Keaton changing up her late-period moves in the right ways.
The Intruder similarly features an unexpected turn from a twilight-time performer — this time Dennis Quaid, who transforms into a sinewy, lascivious monster that slobbers all over Meagan Good and the seven-figure scenery of the house he’s just sold to her.
Director Deon Taylor’s film upholds its mid-’90s Touchstone Pictures vintage; had it opened then, it likely would have maintained its original, and better, title of Motivated Seller. Taylor has been lauded for frugal filmmaking, but it’s always easy to save money using ADR this often. And the ending he’s concocted with writer David Loughrey (who’s written some variation on this same movie about three times) skunks intriguing ideas about manliness with bloodlust that betrays its characters.
But if you’re watching The Intruder, it’s to see Quaid lean all the way into the insanity of a boisterously batshit performance. He plays Charlie Peck, a retired structural engineer selling Foxglove, his Napa Valley estate, a few years after his wife died of cancer. Asked to confirm if the estate’s namesake plant is poisonous, Charlie crows: “Highly.”
Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Good) are looking to relocate from the din of San Francisco to the zen of the countryside. Quaid and Ealy let the racist connotations of Charlie and Scott’s initial discussion about price linger with all the necessary discomfort. But Charlie decides to sell it to them anyway so he can relocate to live with his daughter in Florida.
However, Charlie doesn’t seem in much of a hurry to leave — cutting the grass, dropping in for Thanksgiving, watching Scott and Annie make love from inside the house. Regardless of the clockwork regulation for thrills in this genre, The Intruder’s clock strikes with a fair amount of vigor here (albeit a bit overlong) and a smidge of ethnographic entitlement a la Get Out sans the science-fiction and with all the finesse of a sledgehammer.
Again: You’re watching this for Quaid, who has been around long enough that he’s played the hero in this very same story (Cold Creek Manor, far more pretentious and boring). As Charlie terrorizes Scott, Annie and their (sorta-dickhead) friends, it becomes clear it’s less about what others are doing to Charlie’s home and more that he just wants to be the one to do it. That the secrets of his past or house would’ve come out in any kind of cursory inspection is, in a way, beyond the point. Charlie represents the sort of brusque, smarmy, do-as-I-say BS that you want to see take a bat to the face — and it’s about damn time Quaid subverted his Stetson-sturdy charms into a squalid shitbird like this.
Want a Napa Valley movie that’s less stressful and more picturesque? Amy Poehler’s directorial debut, Wine Country, is now streaming on Netflix. While we’re still pondering titles that would’ve play better, this would have been better off as Things We Say Now. Then again, who’s to argue with a Netflix algorithm that suggests a title like Wine Country to prime you for the sort of uncomplicated hangout comedy you’d expect?
Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey play a sextet of longtime pals reuniting for a weekend-long 50th birthday celebration. It looks like these ladies are just going to dance their way through the weekend to the Toadies, Kim Wilde and Young MC. But when a tarot card reader (Cherry Jones) predicts volatile, truth-telling confrontations among these friends are inevitable, all bets are off.
Abby (Poehler) is like Leslie Knope had she languished, a control freak whose influence has become infinitesimal at best; Rebecca (Dratch) is a therapist ready to offer feedback on everyone except herself; Naomi (Rudolph) is the harried mother afraid to address a health crisis; Catherine (Gasteyer) is the career woman whose inability to downshift has left her on the friendship’s fringes; Val (Pell) is a lovesick lesbian with newly repaired knees; and Jenny (Spivey) is … well, Spivey is part of the real-life crew of friends so she’s in this movie, too.
Indeed, Wine Country’s lack of ambition — a superficial Sideways cut with a better-behaved Bridesmaids — is tempered by the true-life chemistry these women share. (Tina Fey also turns up in a bit part.) The respective secret weapons of stealth and showing off are Dratch and Pell (the latter, like Spivey, a longtime SNL writer getting her most substantial onscreen part yet). A master of physical comedy that is harrowingly still, Dratch elicits howling laughs in just a shot of her sleeping and that’s before a back injury immobilizes her. Meanwhile, Pell gets the bossy bluster that came with her newly bionic knees but also a bit of wounded resignation about her stagnating sex life.
As for Poehler’s aesthetic, Wine Country just kind of looks like an NBC series; she does show a knack for escalation and timing as the ladies find themselves stuck on a very steep hill (and in an unexpected SNL callout to the Sarcastic Clapping Family of Southampton skit). Poehler is also good at holding close-ups that represent the emotional capitulation these ladies have swallowed more than any liquor. None of them is in Napa under any pretense to learn about wine, just to drink as much of it as possible. Wine Country also cares little about flavor notes or hints beyond how these reliable comediennes can lull you into zone-out relaxation.