Metro Weekly

‘Thelma’: One Bad Grandmutha on a Mission (Review)

June Squibb is a feisty grandmother hunting the scam artists who robbed her in the satisfying caper-comedy "Thelma."

Thelma: June Squibb and Fred Hechinger - Photo: Magnolia Pictures
Thelma: June Squibb and Fred Hechinger – Photo: Magnolia Pictures

More than thirty years and thirty-plus films into her late-blooming screen career, beloved character actress June Squibb at last mounts her own star vehicle — and it’s a cherry red mobility scooter.

The surprisingly swift scooter happens to be the vehicle of choice for Squibb’s indomitable title character in Thelma, a sweet and satisfying first-time feature from Josh Margolin. Building from a solid premise, the filmmaker finds a warmly funny mode of low-key action-comedy, driven by nonagenarian Squibb as cute but tenacious 93-year-old widow Thelma.

And even a 93-year-old action hero needs a cool ride, especially on a crusade to track down a villain. Thelma’s perilous adventure will take her all over town, doggedly on the trail of a cell phone scammer who bilks her out of ten grand.

They get her with a distress call from someone claiming to be her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger), her 24-year-old best buddy, and the family member charged with keeping an eye on grandma. Thelma still lives alone, cherishes her independence, and doesn’t necessarily feel she needs looking after — though she gladly accepts Danny’s IT assistance in trying to figure out how email works.

Generally, however, Thelma relies on herself. So she takes it hard that she falls for such a scheme. Anyone might feel a fool, but she feels miffed by the fact that her age made her a target. Or maybe, the film suggests, she’s so upset because she knows her age played a factor in her falling for the scam. Maybe she needs more help than she’s been ready to admit.

Her quest, then, isn’t just about getting back her money, but about restoring her sense of confidence that she can stay sharp and useful, and connected to the world without falling prey to crooks and cons. The film succeeds on the grounds that what she wants in her old age, is what we all might want, to still be with it, cared about, involved in something.

So she’s determined to get her money back, come hell or high water, and we’ll root for her. It’s pretty much impossible not to root for Squibb, anyway. The former stage actress turned Oscar-nominated supporting player from Nebraska, Inside Out 2, and this spring’s Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead remake, has mastered the art of balancing her homespun Midwestern wholesomeness with natural touches of dry wit and impressive grit.

Margolin, an actor himself, surrounds his leading lady with a solid supporting cast, including Hechinger, still looking and acting like the kid who ditched his family for paradise in the finale of White Lotus season one. Parker Posey and Clark Gregg have their moments as Danny’s helicopter parents Gail and Alan. Yet despite Posey’s best efforts, mom and dad register as caricatures of parents who’ve so coddled their boy that even he believes he’s incapable of succeeding on his own.

Hechinger more affectingly conveys Danny’s genuine distress that he’s lost track of grandma, after Thelma takes off on her mission. Actually, as it turns out, Tom Cruise sprinting across rooftops in Mission: Impossible provides a few good jokes as Thelma’s major inspiration for dodging danger in the field.

Fortunately, she’s accompanied by her years-long friend Ben, played by Shaft legend Richard Roundtree, in his final film role. Pointedly looking his age, though dapper as ever, Roundtree marks another stroke of canny casting, adding an 80-year-old action-movie icon to further illustrate that age catches up to everybody, even John Shaft. It’ll catch Ethan Hunt one day, too.

Squibb and Roundtree, as unexpected as any buddy-comedy duo of late, complement each other beautifully in a relationship that resonates as much as that between Thelma and her grandson.

In relatively few strokes, the film establishes Thelma and Ben’s rapport and history as friends who don’t really consider each other friends. When their spouses were alive, they were among a tight-knit crew of married couples who took trips together. She never really liked him, she says, but was always fond of his wife Cheryl. Similarly, Ben always felt closer to Thelma’s late husband Teddy.

But now they’re both, in a sense, alone. Not only are their spouses gone, but their friends are dropping off, too. “I never thought I’d be this old,” Thelma laments, and Ben understands. The movie’s gift is that we can all understand what she means, where she’s coming from, and why she’s compelled to lace up her sneakers, commandeer Ben’s scooter, and chase down her ten thousand dollars through a harrowing night.

Margolin keeps his foot on the gas in terms of pacing, composer Nick Chuba’s jaunty caper music keeps the adventure on its toes, and Squibb charmingly embodies the love the filmmaker clearly has for his actual 104-year old grandmother Thelma, glimpsed in the closing credits.

Thelma (★★★★☆) is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit

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