Thelma (2024)

Thelma Review


Thelma is a gift at a film festival full of dark, underbaked or muddled material. The fact that first-time writer-director Josh Margolin’s film gives June Squibb the type of actor most people know as scene-stealing characters rather than by name her first leading film role at age 94 should be reason enough to see it. Even more so that Thelma pitches Squibb as perhaps the year’s least likely action hero: a nonagenarian of ordinary abilities who gets phone-scammed out of $10,000 and, inspired by “Mission Impossible,” embarks on a quest to retrieve it.

Margolin, a veteran of improv comedy, has an eye for the rhythms of daily life as a ninety-something. The film, which premiered at Sundance, is an ode to his real-life grandma Thelma, and her on-screen counterpart crackles with wit, wonder, slowed-down sweetness and stubbornness clearly derived from deep, genuine love. Like the real Thelma (and also my own grandmother), Squibb’s character lives alone in an LA condo; widowed two years prior to our meeting her, she’s on the precipice of independence herself one fall or forgotten keys away from full-time care. Her daughter Gail (Parker Posey) and son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg) hawkishly scan for signs of her decline; only her beloved grandson Danny (an endearing Fred Hechinger), a lost twentysomething struggling with independence of a different variety, engages with her as a full person though he too over-presumes her handicaps.

All this is played humorously; there’s a light cheekiness to the rhythm we’re shown of Thelma’s old-person habits and curtailed world weekly pill trays and handwritten passwords and hours knitting with one finger pecking the keyboard at a time that never tip into mockery. Same for the smalltime scam, familiar to many a person with an older relative, in which anonymous callers convince Thelma that Danny needs $10,000 cash for bail, mailed to an address in Van Nuys. This being an analog scam, the police are of no help her family brushes it off as a chaotic if funny indicator of her vulnerability. But Thelma, somewhat correctly viewing the mistake as a referendum on her capability and will, laces up her Brooks walking shoes and starts scheming to get the money back.

The journey is delightful: A Tom Cruise-inspired action arc if the obstacles were stairs and the gadgets hearing aids. Margolin mostly strikes a difficult balance: sweet but not too cloying, sharp on the limitations of old age without poking fun at them valuing the dignity Thelma seeks in a society that infantilizes and marginalizes elderly people while recognizing the real diminishment of the years. Squibbs’s Thelma is at once a heroine of iron will and too stubborn for her own good; despite her protestations she can’t undertake this plot alone; she needs help in the form of Ben, a nursing home–bound friend she uses for his electric two-seat scooter. The role is a bittersweet send-off for Richard Roundtree in his final film role; complete with monologue about how he wasn’t what he once was that left me lumped throated over my keyboard

What a delight it is to witness.

Watch Thelma For Free On Gomovies.

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