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Golden Mean Girls

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Ray Bengston/Gravitas Ventures

MOVIE REVIEW
Queen Bees (2021)

The “Queen Bees” trailer pitches the film as “Mean Girls” for the geriatric set, but in actuality it’s a feature-length infomercial singing the virtues of the nursing home and brought to you by the AARP (which, incidentally, was the actual sponsor of the virtual preview this critic attended).

Widow Helen (Ellen Burstyn) insists on her independence and preserving the house she and her late husband built, in spite of seeds planted by her scheming realtor daughter, Laura (Elizabeth Mitchell). Unfortunately, Helen’s forgetfulness causes an accident that necessitates her temporarily, and very reluctantly, checking into the Pine Grove Senior Community. Though initially wanting to be left alone, Helen begins exploring the assisted living facility’s various social offerings at the nudging of her grandson, Peter (Matthew Barnes). But no matter where she goes, she can’t seem to escape the territorial clique consisting of Janet (Jane Curtin), Margot (Ann-Margret) and Sally (Loretta Devine). Meanwhile, Helen also tries to fend off the not-so-subtle romantic overtures of the rest home’s resident stud, Dan (James Caan).

Many parallels can be drawn between this movie and “The Mole Agent,” the adorable Oscar-nominated documentary by Maite Alberdi about 83-year-old Sergio Chamy, who works for a private detective and goes undercover in a Chilean old folks home to spy on someone living there. Unfortunately, “Queen Bees” opts to take the glacial Lifetime Movie of the Week approach. There’s nothing particularly memorable, deft or funny here. Every conflict seems to be a nonissue by the next scene, particularly the alleged bitchiness of some of the titular queen bees. Ms. Burstyn’s presence helps make the film tolerable, but there’s only so much she can bring to the walking cliché that is a former teacher who likes to quote famous people like Nelson Mandela. Even with Mr. Caan working his charm, the film still can’t be jolted back to life.

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