Imagine your typical action movie hero, dashing around defeating bad guys and defying death with high-flying stunts. Now picture a 93-year-old great-grandmother in that role instead. That delightful premise comes to life in Thelma, a feel-good indie flick starring the dynamic June Squibb as the titular nonagenarian on a quest to recover money stolen from her in an embarrassing phone scam. After dutifully sending $10,000 cash to criminals posing as her distressed grandson, Thelma Post realizes her mistake.
But rather than sit back while her family urges her to move on, this stubbornly independent woman sets off on an electric scooter across Los Angeles to bring the scammers to justice herself. Enlisting help from her genteel widower friend Ben (Shaft legend Richard Roundtree in his final role), Thelma embarks on a slow-moving but determined mission that transforms endearing physical comedy into an unlikely tale of triumph over deceit and ageism alike.
Spunky Senior Fights Back Against Phone Scam
Thelma Post is a 93-year-old widow enjoying her golden years, beloved by her family even as she grapples with physical frailty. But her peaceful routine is shattered when she receives a desperate call from a young man claiming to be her adored grandson Daniel, pleading for bail money after a car accident lands him in jail.
Trusting soul that she is, Thelma immediately withdraws $10,000 cash and sends it off, only to later discover the distressing call was merely a scam. While Thelma’s protective daughter Gail and the rest of the family gently urge her to move on, Thelma is filled with embarrassment and rage at being so cruelly duped. In a scene straight from a Hollywood action flick, Thelma decides to track down the fraudsters herself and reclaim her hard-earned savings.
Her reluctant partner-in-crime is dapper widower Ben, her late husband’s best friend. The odd couple embarks on a scooter joyride across Los Angeles to the address where Thelma mailed that fateful package. Battling physical limitations and evading her family’s desperate attempts to bring her home, Thelma stays doggedly on the trail of the scammers.
In one standout sequence, she cunningly tries to steal a handgun from a forgetful elderly friend. Later, when Thelma finally comes face-to-face with the slimy mastermind behind the phone racket, she gives him a piece of her fearless mind. By relying on her wits and determination, Thelma transforms from scam victim to heroic avenger, proving it’s never too late for justice.
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Bittersweet Comedy Captures Joys and Struggles of Aging
At its core, Thelma is a meditation on growing old in modern society. Through the eyes of its fiery 93-year-old protagonist, the film explores the tension between cherishing one’s autonomy in old age and receiving support from loved ones when physical decline inevitably encroaches. Thelma deeply resists any threats to her self-sufficiency, whether from condescending family members urging her to take it easy or from sinister scammers trying to swindle her hard-earned savings. Yet she also grapples with the reality that her body can’t always keep up with her bold spirit, making routine activities feel like daring feats.
In pairing this complex portrait of aging with action movie tropes played for comedy, Thelma strikes a bittersweet yet life-affirming tone. When Thelma embarks on her motorized scooter quest for justice across the sprawling LA landscape, every cracked sidewalk and steep curb seems as treacherous as escaping a burning building. But she handles each obstacle with steadfast perseverance and a twinkle of mischief in her eye, drawing chuckles and cheers in equal measure. As Thelma remarks wryly, watching Tom Cruise sprint at full speed on TV, “We’re not what we were.” Yet her definition of being alive encompasses much more than death-defying stunt work; it’s about nurturing adventure and relationships alike.
The intergenerational friendships in the film reinforce this message about aging with grace and passion. Thelma’s bond with her slacker grandson Daniel mirrors her connection with widower confidante Ben. She mentors Daniel on bouncing back from setbacks, while Ben keeps her out of too much trouble on her whirlwind quest. These relationships brim with laughter and wisdom passed between generations, spotlighting Thelma’s role as the heart of this makeshift family despite being decades older. Through them all, Thelma maintains a vibrant mindset still open to risk and wonder at her age.
With its savvy balance of poignancy and humor, action and introspection, Thelma makes growing older look downright cool. Far from tragic, Squibb’s portrayal sparkles with hard-won perspective on what matters most. The film celebrates the elderly not just for their past strengths but for who they remain in the present – multifaceted individuals full of life.
Squibb Shines in Overdue Starring Role
Much of Thelma’s charm stems from its outstanding lead performance by June Squibb. At 93 years young, the acting veteran finally gets the first starring role of her long career, more than proving herself up to the task with captivating wit and power. As stubborn, prideful Thelma Post, Squibb depicts the microaggressions of aging with wry humor and steely resolve. Whether gingerly navigating a slippery curb or outsmarting con artists, Squibb radiates the paradox of outer fragility masking formidable inner strength.
The wonderful Richard Roundtree, in his sadly final role before passing away in late 2022, is Squibb’s perfect counterpart as old-fashioned gentleman Ben. Their platonic chemistry fuels much of the film’s buddy comedy momentum. Roundtree’s courtly grace offers a fitting contrast to Thelma’s fiery defiance, bringing out her softer side in unguarded moments. Yet as kind as Ben may be, he proves himself still game for adventure alongside his risk-taking friend.
Squibb also shares delightful intergenerational rapport with Fred Hechinger as her adrift grandson, Daniel. Hechinger leans into the slacker charm he displayed as Quinn in The White Lotus, while revealing hidden depths of sincerity. As Daniel struggles with dismissal from his girlfriend and smothering parents, his rediscovered sense of purpose in supporting Thelma’s crusade proves mutually heartening.
While Squibb, Roundtree, and Hechinger shine brightest, the film unfortunately underserves its supporting players. Thelma’s fretful daughter Gail and son-in-law Alan amount to little more than nagging cardboard cutouts as embodied one-dimensionally by Parker Posey and Clark Gregg. Far more memorable is Malcolm McDowell’s secretive appearance bringing additional intrigue.
Altogether, Thelma succeeds on the strengths of its compelling lead duo – June Squibb finally receiving the spotlight she deserves alongside the late Richard Roundtree leaving a poignant final impression. Their chemistry conveys the film’s heart: that life’s journeys only grow sweeter when shared with true friends, wherever they’re found.
Playful Direction Transforms Physical Comedy Into Touching Action
Making his feature directorial debut with Thelma, Josh Margolin infuses the film with his clear affection for time-honored action movies. Yet rather than replicate generic tropes, he cleverly reimagines them through the unexpected lens of old age. The result is an action-comedy hybrid grounded in the genuine struggles of navigating a treacherous world on unsteady feet (and little scooter wheels).
Margolin inventively transforms routine activities into nail-biting feats of adversity. Simply rising from a couch becomes imbued with peril; charging up a short but slanted driveway evokes scaling Everest. Far from mocking the elderly, however, this comically heightened portrayal spotlights their humble heroism in facing each day’s obstacles.
While Margolin occasionally overindulges cutesy dialogue, he largely nails the delicate balance between feel-good humor and poignancy. Whimsical musical interludes courtesy of Nick Chuba’s retro score keep the tone upbeat. Yet the direction remains focused on fleshing out Thelma, from her physical vulnerability to her steely resolve.
Margolin’s editing similarly complements this characterization, mirroring Thelma’s slow yet steady mobility scooter pace with ambling transitional scenes across LA. These unhurried rhythms allow relationships and inner growth to emerge organically over adrenaline-fueled action.
Altogether, Margolin brings infectious admiration for his real-life grandmother to Thelma’s direction. He transforms her minor true story into a grander tale of inspiration, refusing to limit his aging protagonist only to tragedy or comedy. The result is an unlikely underdog whose power lies in forging ahead, one laborious turn of the wheelchair at a time.
Squibb and Roundtree Shine Despite Uneven Execution
At its best, Thelma soars on the strengths of June Squibb’s stellar late-career performance and her soulful chemistry with Richard Roundtree. Squibb finally receives the long-overdue leading role her talents have always merited, portraying the film’s stubborn heroine with a magical blend of feistiness, vulnerability, and deadpan humor. Whether gingerly navigating a tricky curb or facing down con artists, Squibb brings Thelma vibrantly to life as the type of complex older woman rarely spotlighted onscreen. Roundtree makes for her perfect gentlemanly counterpart as widower Ben, the two seasoned actors conveying a wealth of history through every wry, affectionate exchange. Their odd-couple partnership gives the film an incredibly grounded heart regardless of any zany misadventures.
Margolin also deserves credit for crafting clever scenarios that translate action movie thrills into senior-friendly trials like a high-stakes scooter chase. By poking fun at the portrayal of elderly folks as helpless while highlighting their grit, Thelma ultimately strikes a moving balance between comedy and poignancy. Much of this tonal magic stems from intergenerational relationships, like Thelma’s mutually heartening bond with her adrift grandson. Despite uneven pacing, Margolin nails the movie’s emotional beats thanks to Roundtree and Squibb’s exceptional performances.
Regrettably, Thelma loses some momentum whenever its central duo aren’t on screen. Supporting roles ranging from Thelma’s daughter Gail to Ben’s retirement community neighbors remain shallow at best and cartoonish at worst. Margolin’s editing also grows self-indulgent through occasional dragging transitions; quiet reflection suits some scenes but slows the film’s energy elsewhere. Most frustratingly, Thelma’s long-awaited confrontation with the swindler behind her financial scam proves rather anti-climactic. For all Margolin’s inventive hijinks leading up to this moment, the payoff lacks sufficient catharsis.
Nevertheless, the core elements work beautifully – namely, Squibb’s triumphant portrayal accompanied by Roundtree’s understated gravitas in his final performance. From playfully bantering to navigating somber losses, their chemistry elevates Thelma as a quirky yet kindhearted exploration of aging. Overstuffed plotting and digressions fade into the background when these two venerable actors share the screen, offering a poignant reminder that life’s last acts contain some of its sweetest gifts.
A Crowning Role for An Unlikely Action Heroine
From its premise alone, Thelma makes clear that this will be no typical action movie romp yet still offers thrills of a more subtle kind. In casting vibrant veteran actress June Squibb as his stubborn, justice-seeking heroine, director Josh Margolin creates an unlikely bingo hall incarnation of Die Hard’s John McClane crossed with a Golden Girls-style spitfire.
Forgoing Hollywood’s ageist tendency to sideline older characters as tragic figures, Margolin allows Squibb’s Thelma to shine in all her defiant, complicated glory – by turns frail yet plucky, despairing yet driven. At her side through every harrowing scooter-bound escapade is Richard Roundtree in an affectingly warm final performance as loyal friend Ben, the pair’s bond bringing welcome depth amid zanier sequences.
While Thelma perhaps tries taking on more oddball digressions than it can fully deliver, at its core shines the incredible talent that is June Squibb. Margolin crafts his love letter to feisty grandparents everywhere around Squibb’s stellar range, gifting her a long-awaited first starring role to sink her teeth into at age 93.
Thanks to the humanity she brings to this unorthodox action set-up, Thelma remains far more a poignant character study than thrilling genre piece, even as it cheerfully mashes up those disparate elements into a crowd-pleasing hybrid. Overflowing with laughter, wisdom, and inspiration that speaks to viewers both young and old, Thelma is one for the ages.
Despite uneven pacing and some unfulfilled potential, Thelma is an absolute joy thanks largely to June Squibb’s masterful starring performance. As the stubborn, justice-seeking protagonist, Squibb effortlessly carries the film’s tonal balancing act between spirited comedy and thoughtful drama about the struggles of growing old. Her chemistry with Richard Roundtree fuels a delightfully offbeat odd-couple dynamic that captures the indomitable, multifaceted spirits of our elders. With its clever aging-focused twist on tiring action tropes, Thelma refreshingly spotlights a fiery 93-year-old underdog we root for in her slow but steady quest to regain her pride. While certain elements frustrate, the talented leads ensure this feel-good flick wins more often than it falters.
- June Squibb gives a fantastic lead performance
- Charming chemistry between Squibb and Richard Roundtree
- Creative, humor-filled take on aging/action tropes
- Roundtree makes affecting last on-screen appearance
- Heartwarming intergenerational relationships
- Supporting characters like Parker Posey underdeveloped
- Uneven pacing from self-indulgent editing
- Final confrontation lacks sufficient payoff
- Some unfulfilled potential in overstuffed plotting