THELMA – Review by April Neale

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Thelma is a film that stands out for its unique storytelling—a refreshing departure from the typical cinematic fare we are being force-fed in the summer. It’s a brilliantly, hilariously subtle exploration of aging in the digital age and the generational blind spots when raising a functional kid wrapped inside an action flick. The importance of Thelma’s family and her struggle to retain her agency underscores the story. Director Josh Margolin crafted the tale based on the real-life experience of his grandmother. June Squibb plays the titular Thelma, a widowed woman of 93 years watching the dust settle as life slips by with needlepoint and television, who greatly admires Tom Cruise’s stunt work ethic in films. One day, a scammer phone call is received that changes her life trajectory.

The entire film is crafted with genuine love and filled with wry observational and infectious humor; Margolin weaves familiar action genre moments with age-appropriate exchanges between Thelma, her family and friends that show her determination to get her hard-earned money back despite her daughter Gail’s (Parker Posey), son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg), or grandson Danny’s (Fred Hechinger) frets about her mental and physical well-being.

Thelma’s lucky break is her uncanny ability to find familiar faces in seas of strangers and her grandson Danny, who enjoys her and is a nonjudgmental companion.

Squibb is a joy to behold as her Thelma unspools the clues of a scammer who bilked her out of $10,000 in a frantic phony phone call emulating the grandson’s name and voice in distress early in the film. The film’s themes of relevance and the fight against injustice are sure to resonate with many, making it a must-watch for those interested in unconventional narratives and damned fine performances by a cast so perfectly matched to their roles; you could hug the casting agent.

Fortunately, Thelma has a buddy in her quest for retribution, which she knows is a precious commodity at her age. Enter the incredible actor Richard Roundtree cast as her pal Ben, who genuinely wants to help her regain her money and freedom. A scooter heist at his assisted living home nets Thema some wheels and mobility as she figures out who in Van Nuys made off with her dough. Their conversations with each other will hit you hard if you listen closely.

To all our delight, British actor Malcolm McDowell, whose menacing villain “Harvey” faces off with the intrepid Thelma, has his aging ax to grind as he tries to negotiate the return of the stolen money. “You could have been an actor,” says Thelma to the arch-criminal, who also can’t figure out how to work his computer and needs his grandson to help him out of the jam he’s made.

The film’s premise is rooted in a growing problem that sees many older Americans robbed of their money as clever criminals use AI to recreate their loved ones’ voices to scare and panic the person into emptying their accounts. It happens every day. But Thelma is a winsome and respectful revenge yarn victory lap that shows aging isn’t for sissies. When our bodies begin to fail us and our minds stay strong, or the reverse, it is a fate we all face unless death comes early and unexpectedly.

Margolin never infantilizes or mocks his Thelma; she’s a natural person with a mission, and she can weave her charm while dispatching baddies and proffering excellent life advice during the most action-filled scenes.

Well. No more sad business. This ensemble cast, premise, and execution of the story show that there are blessedly still great funny stories to tell that are neither lookbacks at historic human awfulness nor imagined fantastical future worlds filled with borgs, robots, and monsters.

This film might take you back to when your parents were in your teenage hair, harshing your proverbial vibe. A special grandparent was the family safety valve that kept you in stitches and gave you perspective on the family, a safer space to be yourself with a sounding board who loved you unconditionally. That’s the gift of a good grandparent. Watch Thelma and realize that in the trajectory of our human existence, this role is one to aspire to and look forward to.

Lastly, a big shout out to the deft work of cinematographer David Bolen, sound designer Nathan Ruyle, and the film score by Nick Chuba, whose work creates both a visual and aural intimate look at a woman living alone who morphs into an action hero of sorts with a Mission Impossible tinge that would delight Tom Cruise.

Please, award circuit gurus, give Squibb, Roundtree, and Hechinger an award to make this grandmother very happy.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

April Neale

April Neale is a film and television critic. She appears on “What’s On” KTVB Channel 7 (NBC) Boise for Idaho Today. She is the editor of IdaHome FLAVOR, a worldwide magazine featuring celebrity chefs and Idaho culinary bosses. Neale is also the Entertainment Editor for IdaHome Magazine.