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Review: Thelma

94-year-old June Squibb emerges as the unlikeliest action star of 2024 in Josh Margolin’s debut feature, Thelma. Set against a backdrop of a modest San Fernando Valley neighborhood, Thelma is a refreshing departure from the adrenaline-pumping spectacles dominated by the likes of John Wick and Jason Statham. Squibb, with her unique charm and vigor, breathes life into Thelma, a physically fragile but indomitable elderly widow on a quest for justice after being swindled by a phone scammer, think The Beekeeper with more plausibility and heart.

Duped into believing her grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) is in desperate need of bail money, she mails $10,000 to an anonymous P.O. box. Realizing she’s been conned and finding no support from law enforcement, Thelma decides to prove her independence and reclaim her money by taking matters into her own hands. This decision propels her into a series of absurd yet gripping escapades, often blending the mundanity of her daily life with high-octane action sequences reminiscent of Mission: Impossible.

Margolin crafts a delicate balance between parody and heartfelt storytelling. The action sequences are intentionally grounded, with Thelma’s heroics involving everyday activities—visiting the post office, navigating a cluttered bedroom, or recovering from a fall. These scenes, underscored by Nick Chuba’s compelling score, are often funny and clever yet have a poignant layer to them given how honestly they approach getting older.

The heart of Thelma lies in this portrayal of aging and the quest for autonomy. Thelma’s determination to prove her capability to her overprotective daughter Gail (Parker Posey) and son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg) is a resonant theme. This is not merely a story about reclaiming lost money; it’s about affirming self-worth and agency in the twilight years. Thelma’s journey, although rooted in humor, is deeply moving, reflecting a universal desire for respect and recognition.

June Squibb’s performance, her first lead role at 94, is what carries the film. Known for her comedic prowess, Squibb deftly navigates between moments of vulnerability and fierce determination. Her portrayal of Thelma is multi-dimensional; she’s endearing, formidable, and profoundly relatable. Richard Roundtree, in one of his final roles, shines as Ben, Thelma’s loyal friend and occasional sidekick. Their on-screen chemistry is heartwarming, capturing the essence of long-standing friendships that endure life's many changes. Fred Hechinger’s portrayal of Daniel, Thelma's grandson, offers glimpses of a young man on the brink of maturity, adding depth to his character’s otherwise slacker persona. Despite his life having never taken off, he is the only one who believes in Thelma's strength.

The comedic elements, derived from the everyday challenges of aging, are handled with sensitivity and wit. Margolin avoids cheap laughs at the expense of his elderly characters, instead offering a narrative that resonates with audiences of all ages. The film’s climactic moments, where Thelma and Ben use their hearing aids as makeshift earpieces during a “heist,” are both hilarious and endearing, showcasing Margolin’s talent for blending comedy with genuine emotion.

Thelma is a delightful addition to the action-comedy genre, marked by June Squibb’s funny, sensitive performance and Josh Margolin’s deft direction. It’s a film that manages to be both funny and profound, offering a refreshing perspective on aging and autonomy. As the credits roll, viewers might find themselves inspired to pick up the phone and call their own grandmothers, a testament to the film’s lasting emotional impact.



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