Tropic Sprockets / Queen Bees

By Ian Brockway

“Queen Bees,” directed by Michael Lambeck is a rom-com for the senior set, possessing a fine cast and affectionate spirit, but its conventional treatment never lets the story develop into new territory.

Helen (Ellen Burstyn) is a grandmother who feels pressure from her daughter Laura (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her adoring grandson Peter (Matthew Barnes) to sell her house. Helen leaves the oven on and inadvertently locks herself out. A pan roars with flames igniting a fire. Laura is horrified and insists that mom can’t live alone.

Helen reluctantly agrees to try a retirement home with the understanding she will only stay a month until her house is back in order. Little does she know about the drama in store for her.

There is heart and energy in the acting of Ellen Burstyn, who is at first aloof but then strives to fit in and James Caan who plays a genial man who may or may not have an ulterior motive.

The main antagonist is a sour Janet (Jane Curtin) who wants to control every aspect of the building.

Actor Loretta Devine’s Sally dispenses comedy with her loose tongue in fine comic timing, but the trappings are routine when marijuana is introduced and the gang (accompanied by Ann Margret) sit on a purse snatcher. Burstyn, Caan and Curtin are in good form. It is only that the tone is relatively staid, warm and fuzzy with little surprise. Christopher Lloyd is here mostly for a sight gag as a ladies’ man with a ratty toupee, albeit expressed with some pathos given that his character has Alzheimer’s. For the most part, things are idle and easy. There are no electrified, carnivorous refrigerators or head-revolving daughters to be seen.

While the film would benefit from less sundry appearances of the actors, with James Caan being enigmatic and a shade ambivalent, “Queen Bees” is an ultra-light bubbly trifle that will evoke a few satisfied titters from those who like to see these cinematic veterans combat duplicity and unscrupulous accounting in retirement homes, smiling in self-deprecation all the way.

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