Chances are good your parents or grandparents have never seen “Mean Girls.” That being the case, if they see Michael Lembeck’s “Queen Bees,” it will come off as remarkably original.
A showcase for its veteran cast, this is a Hallmark movie for the senior set, replete with a journey toward self-actualization, an innocent romance complicated by a misunderstanding and light, humorous gags that land with a soft touch.
Nothing to offend here, just a pleasant time-filler that will help you while away an afternoon and give you an excuse to eat some movie theater popcorn.
The setting is not a California high school but Pine Grove Retirement Center, a palatial resort-like community where Helen (Ellen Burstyn) reluctantly goes for what she insists is a temporary stay.
Having set fire to her kitchen, she finally gives in to her daughter (Elizabeth Mitchell), who’s insisted for some time that she needs to live in an assisted-care facility.
Stubborn and independent, Helen is determined not to like Pine Grove, but what with water aerobics, on-site doctors and masseuses, fine dining and a myriad of activities in a posh setting, who wouldn’t want to live there?
Once she checks in, Helen encounters Janet, Sally and Margot (Jane Curtain, Loretta Devine and Ann-Margret), bullies who make it known they run the joint. They dictate which table they sit at and who can sit with them! They control how activities are run! They have no problem spreading wicked pieces of gossip about their peers, just for the fun of seeing them brought low! It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out what the “Bees” in the title actually stands for.
Of course, Helen runs afoul of the titular trio but can see through their bluster. She won’t be buffaloed by this behavior, and a war of wills begins. And while she’s either putting these women in their place or winning them over, Helen is being wooed by Dan (James Caan), a charming widower who takes a shine to her and decides that she’s the one he wants to take walks at sunset with and peck on the cheek when the mood hits him.
There’s a silly mix-up that threatens the love affair, some health scares that are briefly mentioned but never brought up again, as well as many scenes of reconciliation, a litany of sincere apologies and more than a few instances of self-realization before the film comes to an end.
The game cast seems to be happy working, all of them realizing this is the sort of project that comes once your career gets to a certain stage. All are capable and well aware this feature will not be cited as a highlight in any of their obituaries, but it surely won’t be an embarrassment either.
Innocuous and predictable, there’s not a cliché that’s not covered here (Aren’t septuagenarians cute when they get high?), all of it done in a manner that’s consciously safe.
Let’s put it this way — this makes Ron Howard’s “Cocoon” seem edgy. And that’s fine. The audience this is pitched to will likely be comforted by its familiarity and the feel-good message it contains. “Bees” reminds us that life is capable of surprising you even after you think you’ve seen it all, that is as long as you’re open to it.