Sort of a "Mean Girls" for the retiree set, this warmhearted if predictable comedy stars Ellen Burstyn as a woman who moves into a retirement home and joins the ruling cadre.
“Queen Bees” is sort of a “Mean Girls” for the golden years set -- nice older woman moves into a retirement home ruled by a group of imperious gals, clashes with and then joins them, helps them chill out a bit and also finds a nicely creased fellah to get all moony with.
It’s pretty predictable stuff, and you can practically map out the entire plot beforehand with sure-handed accuracy. But it’s also genuinely warmhearted, has some solid funny moments and features an admirable cast of older performers.
If movies were a meal, this is meatloaf with mashed potatoes and buttered corn: familiar comfort food. It won’t wow anyone with originality, but if you like that sort of thing you’re sure to come away satisfied.
This movie, directed by Michael Lembeck from a screenplay by Donald Martin, is notable if for no other reason that it isn’t often you see an 88-year-old actress as the lead in a mainstream film. That would be the inimitable Ellen Burstyn, who plays Helen, a fairly recent widow who clings to her independence.
Her daughter, Laura (Elizabeth Mitchell), is pushing her to sell her home and move into the nearby Pine Grove community. Her loving grandson, Peter (Matthew Barnes), acts as the supportive middleman and peacemaker between them.
But when Helen, who has a tendency to lock herself out of her house, accidentally burns down her kitchen, she agrees to move into Pine Grove for a month while repairs are done.
She soon runs afoul of the titular group that has all the other seniors running -- OK, ambling -- away in fear. They rule the central table in the dining room, decide who is or isn’t in the bridge club, and do early morning exercises in the courtyard with military precision, complete with whistles to wake everyone up.
Jane Curtin plays Janet, the iron-fisted leader of the group who takes a special dislike to Helen. But when one of their bridge foursome dies, Sally (Loretta Divine) recruits her to be her partner. It seems that she and the other queen bee, Margot (Ann-Margret), have been bucking under Janet’s stern yoke, and see Helen as a means to shake things up.
I enjoyed the portrayal of elderly folks in a rather closed community, and the comparisons to high school society are apt. Because the women outnumber the men, romance tends to be a by-committee type of thing. For example, Margot is currently sharing the amorous affections of one randy stud played by Christopher Lloyd (not me, the talented one) with a few other women. Lloyd is clearly having fun in a humorous role, complete with a squirrel’s nest toupee, though he gets one terrific, brief dramatic scene.
The other piece of the puzzle is James Caan as Dan, who moves in shortly after Helen and quickly commences with pitching woo at her, inviting her to every event going on at the retirement home. Helen resists, but soon finds those tender feelings welling up inside just when she thought they were long gone.
Caan’s a little worse for wear these days, walking gingerly with a noticeable stoop. But his scenes with Burstyn still have plenty of magic, and when they gaze into each other’s wet eyes with a feeling of longing and joy… well, I defy you not to get a little misty yourself.
“Queen Bees” is a story about fitting in, taking chances and the need to love and feel loved -- all of which are vital at any age.