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 Written by

THELMA (2024)

Release Date: 06/21/24 
[Festival Run]
Genre: Action. Comedy.

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

[Seen for Sundance Film Festival 2024]

"When 93-year-old Thelma Post gets duped by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson, she sets out on a treacherous quest across the city to reclaim what was taken from her." 


The older you get, the harder it becomes to live. Not because your will deteriorates, but because your health does. You can’t hear. You can’t see. Something as simple as a sidewalk becomes a total threat. Everyday tasks become life or death missions. It’s a sad truth but, from the proper perspective, there’s also a degree of humor. Writer/director Josh Margolin just so happens to have that proper perspective, and he executes to maximum comedic effect in his debut feature Thelma.


The film follows a 93-year-old grandma (named Thelma) who is conned out of $10,000 by phone scammers. Upset by the ordeal, she defies her family and enlists the help of an old friend (and his mobility scooter) to find the culprits on a short yet scary trek through the streets of Los Angeles.


Academy Award-nominee June Squibb is a riot as the titular character. With a perfect combination of cluelessness and determination, she delivers one of the most hilarious and inspiring performances of the year. But what really sets her apart from other senior characters we’ve seen throughout the history of cinema is that she refuses to be held back by her age. Funny enough, she gets the idea from Tom Cruise, who becomes a recurring motivation for her. After seeing him in one of the latest Mission: Impossible movies with her grandson, she’s equally shocked and impressed when she learns that he does his own stunts. This revelation sets the entire film in motion. Not because it sparks the idea that she’s capable of more than what other people believe. It’s also a tasteful tease of the franchise - and genre - Thelma’s journey will ultimately parody.


Thelma may not scale skyscrapers or hold her own against henchmen, but her adventure is still just as thrilling. Margolin makes even the most modest tasks suspenseful, and that’s where a lot of the film’s brilliant humor lies. He deserves a lot of credit for how smart and silly the story is. The film is laugh-out-loud funny, but also incredibly realistic. For example, there’s a great sequence where Thelma visits an old friend to retrieve something. The side quest seems simple enough, until she realizes she has to climb a set of stairs… Later on, when she tries to log onto a computer, she enlists the help of her grandson over the phone. In an ordinary spy film, she’d be given instructions on how to hack into a mainframe. Here, she’s just trying to figure out how to exit the pop-ups we’ve become so annoyingly accustomed to. 


Margolin also deserves credit for directing such an excellent cast. Here, Squibb is joined by Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, Parker Posey, and Clark Gregg. Hechinger plays the aforementioned grandson, and has a tender, authentic and comedic chemistry with Squibb that the film builds beautifully upon. He, Posey and Gregg all do a fine job, but it is the late Roundtree who is the heart of the film. 


He plays one of Thelma’s oldest friends, Ben, whom she actually isn’t too fond of. As we come to find out, she only visits him at his retirement home because he recently got his mobility scooter fixed. With no way of getting around herself, she wants to hijack it. When he finds out what she’s up to, he decides to join her. Ben’s accompaniment, while unwelcomed, challenges Thelma. Although the audience is already on her side, Ben does keep her grounded. He acts as a constant reminder that, despite her “stunts”, she’s still human, and it’s okay to fall sometimes - literally. 


The film’s only con is its timeline. The majority of the story takes place over the course of one day, with Roundtree’s character constantly emphasizing that he can’t be out too long because he has a show he can’t miss at his retirement home. There’s a point in the film where it’s actually hinted that he’s actually missed his show. At the end, however, we see that he actually made it. It’s a very small detail to get hung up on, but it’s also one that audiences may not care too much about, because everyone perceives time differently. And if this film is about anything, it’s about perception. 


As we get older, we’re perceived to be weaker yet wiser. If Thelma proves anything, it’s that age is really just a number. You may never be too old to make mistakes, but you’re also never too old to regain your strength. You’re most certainly never too old to go on the adventure of a lifetime - or seek justice. Those lessons, coupled with the countless laughs and June Squibb’s soon-to-be iconic performance all but ensure Thelma will go down as one of the year’s best.


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