Review: Assisted living comedy 'Queen Bees' needs a comedy assist

Ellen Burstyn, James Caan and Jane Curtin star in so-so comedy about the potential joys of living in a retirement community.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Maybe the old folks home isn't so bad after all. 

That's the message of "Queen Bees," a middling comedy that plays like it was underwritten by the Retirement Community Association of America, if there were such a thing. In it, a woman is forced into an assisted living community against her will, but after a rocky start she finds new friends, new love and several hot meals a day. All that's missing is the application form at the end. 

Ellen Burstyn and Loretta Devine in "Queen Bees."

Native Detroiter (and Cass Tech grad!) Ellen Burstyn stars as Helen, who lives on her own in the house she built with her late husband. But as she's getting older she's having a hard time taking care of the property, and when she nearly burns down her kitchen, her daughter Laura (Elizabeth Mitchell) sends her off to a retirement community. Helen reluctantly agrees to go, only until the kitchen is remodeled. 

There, Helen immediately runs afoul with a group of mean girls known as the Queen Bees, a clique-ish gang led by the cold, short-tempered Janet (Jane Curtin) that also includes Margot (Ann-Margret) and Sally (Loretta Devine). Helen eventually warms up to Margot and Sally, though Janet is a tough nut to crack. She also begins to spend time with a suitor, Dan (James Caan), who breaks down her defenses and shows her love can blossom at any age.

The screenplay by TV movie veteran Donald Martin throws several hammy obstacles in Helen's way, and also builds a cloying relationship between Helen and her grandson (Matthew Barnes) where they only speak to each other in famous quotes. (Like Frank Zappa once said, gag me with a spoon.)

Director Michael Lembeck ("Tooth Fairy") isn't concerned with anything beyond surface-level scenarios, sitcom highjinks (adult diaper jokes, a scene were Helen gets high) and wrapping everything up with a nice bow at the end. Burstyn does what she can with what she's given, but "Queen Bees" falls far short of royal material.


'Queen Bees'


Rated PG-13: for drug use, suggestive material and some language

Running time: 101 minutes

In theaters