Thelma | WORLD
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MOVIE | Grandmother hunts fraudsters and handles family in funny and touching film

Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in Thelma Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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Old age is where independence and frailty collide. The new film Thelma is a walker-paced caper dramedy that captures this impact on an elderly woman in the wake of a phone scam. Writer-director Josh Margolin charts an unpredictable course through humor and pathos—with some predictable worldly wisdom along the way.

A scammer cons 93-year-old Thelma (nonagenarian June Squibb’s first leading film role) into mailing $10,000 cash to a Van Nuys post office box. After the police tell Thelma they can’t do anything, a Tom Cruise movie clip inspires her to search for the bad guys and get her money back on her own. Her doting 24-year-old grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger) doesn’t want her to leave the house without a tracking bracelet, and her overbearing daughter (Parker Posey) and fussy son-in-law (Clark Gregg) are too busy micromanaging Danny to be of much help. So, Thelma enlists the reluctant assistance of Ben (the late Richard Roundtree), a friend from a nursing home, and they set out across north Los Angeles’ sidewalks on his two-seat electric scooter. Thelma takes the handlebars—a sort of inverted Driving Miss Daisy at five miles per hour.

The story unfolds like a leisurely conversation between longtime friends (who throw in misuses of God’s name and other expletives), but it takes some implausible details to keep it going. For example, since Thelma knows the scammer’s post office box number, authorities should’ve been able to investigate. In any case, Thelma’s mission impossible is as much to assert her independence as to recover her money.

“You start acting like a baby, people treat you like a baby,” she tells Ben.

Older viewers and their loved ones will find relatable moments. Thelma often stops people on the street to inquire whether they might be former acquaintances. The film also shows a family’s struggle to balance loving and letting-be. Danny, unemployed and experiencing girlfriend troubles, protests his parents’ intrusions into his life, yet he’s slow to recognize that his concern for his grandmother borders on the domineering.

Margolin is guilty of the same. Scenes at a nursing home and a shut-in’s house remind viewers that many elderly end their years in loneliness. But his characters’ platitudes about autonomy (“There comes a time when you can’t listen to anyone but yourself”) and the afterlife (“There is no good death”) mischaracterize the extent of our frailty, which permeates not just our physical body but also our spirit.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



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