Thelma is an action film spoof with a 93-year-old grandma in the lead

Courtesy photo by David Bolen/Magnolia Pictures
DARING DUO: Ben (Richard Roundtree of Shaft fame) and Thelma (June Squibb) set off across Los Angeles on a mobility scooter to retrieve June’s money lost to a phone scammer, in Thelma, screening in local theaters.

Writer-director Josh Margolin helms this action comedy about 93-year-old Thelma Post (June Squibb) who gets scammed by a grifter pretending to be her grandson and sets out on an adventure to get her money back. (98 min.)

Glen: As the son of an almost 95-year-old mother, I found a lot of the themes of this film resonated with me regarding independence, safety, and needed levels of care. Thelma still lives by herself in the home she shared with her husband, who she clearly misses. Her most constant companion is her grandson, Danny (Fred Hechinger), an unmotivated and self-doubting “failure to launch,” who at 24 lives with his helicopter parents, Gail (Parker Posey) and Alan (Clark Gregg). Danny is well-meaning, but independent Thelma finds him patronizing. When a caller pretending to be Danny says he’s been in an accident, is in jail, and needs $10,000 in bail money, Thelma in her panic gathers up $10,000 in cash and foolishly mails it to a P.O. box. What follows is a Mission: Impossible-style spoof in which a determined Thelma with the reluctant help of old friend Ben (Richard Roundtree) embarks on a mobility-scooter-driven adventure to stake out the P.O. box, find the scammer, and get her money back. It’s funny, charming, and thankfully doesn’t make meanspirited fun of old age.

Anna: Thelma may be in her 90s, may be scared of falling, may be unable to comprehend the scroll wheel on a computer mouse, but she is still the same woman it seems like she’s been all her life: determined, clever, and unphased by the mountains that seem to stand in her way. I loved Squibb’s performance, especially in the moments where she feels like she’s being coddled or patronized—because she’s no fool, and she’ll get what she needs out of you come hell or high water. I also loved Hechinger as Danny, whose parents desperately want to give him direction, but Danny’s just living his life, trying to figure it out, and yes, still sleeping at 10:30 in the morning. What’s the big deal, mom? I feel like I could sing praises for everyone in this cast. Posey is, as always, perfection in her role as therapist/mom Gail, and Roundtree as Ben is equally as wonderful. This one has heart, joy, and laughter. What more can you ask for?

Glen: Apparently inspired by the real-life experiences of director Josh Margolin’s own grandmother, who we see in a clip during the closing credits, the story offers a fun spin on the action genre. Dialog between Thelma and Danny brings up how Tom Cruise does his own stunts, so when Thelma must cross a bed and get to the top of a bureau to retrieve a handgun, it’s presented with all the seriousness and tension of Cruise jumping from one building to another. We also meet a colorful cast of characters, many old but full of sage wisdom and philosophical views on life. Getting old isn’t for wussies, but Margolin’s film clearly believes that with age comes—if not wisdom—soulfulness.

Anna: Not only is the film sweet, but it’s funny. There’s a running joke where Thelma will see another senior citizen and say, “I think I know her!” And then the two will spend a large chunk of time going through their mental Rolodex of contacts only to realize they likely don’t actually know each other at all. It’s just plain cute, and it has a heaping helping of heart as well. This must have been a joy for Margolin to make in honor of his own Thelma and put to screen a woman who was such a character. If you’re looking for feel-good fun, buy a ticket to Thelma.

New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Comment at [email protected].

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