June Squibb and Fred Hechinger in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release.

(L to R) June Squibb and Fred Hechinger in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Arriving in theaters on Friday June 21st, ‘Thelma’ is combines fun action moments, a winning star turn from June Squibb and some knowing talk about the vagaries of aging, all wrapped up in a confident, humorous tale.

Not to be confused with the 2017 European movie about a psychokinetic young woman, this ‘Thelma’ is instead more like a cross between a ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie and ‘The Straight Story’, about an aging person on a quest.

Related Article: Richard Roundtree, Best Known for Playing the Lead in ‘Shaft’, Has Died at the Age of 81

Is ‘Thelma’ a Possible Mission?

Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

(L to R) Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

A crowd-pleasing hit out of the Sundance Film Festival, ‘Thelma’ is a movie that works on various different levels, to differing levels of success. But the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and this makes for a refreshing take on action comedy blended with honest emotion and observation.

And if you’ve ever wondered whether Tom Cruise might still be looking to do the sort of stunts for which he’s become famous via the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise (a direct influence here, referenced early on) in his later years, June Squibb provides the answer. Admittedly, she’s not jumping motorbikes off cliffs or hanging from planes as they take off, her stunts more limited to some nifty scooter driving, a gentle roll across a bed or hilarious moments wielding a gun, but she certainly gives it her all to a degree that Cruise would surely offer a thumbs up to.

Script and Direction

'Thelma' director Josh Margolin.

'Thelma' director Josh Margolin. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Writer/director Josh Margolin infuses real emotion and truth into his story since it is partly based on his interactions with his own grandmother (also named Thelma and glimpsed in real-life video during the end credits).

It all powers a story that feels real while also making for a truly entertaining experience. Margolin’s screenplay also works like a finely-crafted watch, setting up concepts that pay off perfectly down the line –– a subtle reference to a class at Ben’s (Richard Roundtree) retirement community that ends up paying off, and a literal example of the Chekhov’s gun idea (even if it ends up going off long before the final act).

Margolin has also concocted truly watchable characters, the role of Thelma herself a gift for any actor, but perfectly tailored to Squibb’s particular vibe. Don’t go into the movie expecting a pulse-pounding thriller, this is much more a deliberate, quietly-paced comedy drama with a keen eye for small details that add up and creative a convincing world.

Beyond the driving –– literally in several moments –– central plot of an elderly woman looking to get her money back after she falls victim to a scam, there are carefully observed touches such as Thelma constantly thinking she knows people around town, being befuddled by modern technology and dealing with her anxious family.

Yet there is no mockery of those at a later stage of life: while she’s introduced trying to get to grips with the confusing world of a computer, Thelma and her fellow pensioners are portrayed as smart, fearless and using the valuable experience gathered in a lifetime to solve problems, including the smart use of a lifeline emergency tracking gadget to evade discovery and real tenacity in the face of danger.

The resulting film is a real delight, shot unfussily but with real style in a few places, happily spoofing some action movie angles, and, in one pyrotechnic moment, the whole concept of lead actors walking away from an explosion without looking back (in this case, also not being able to hear it). Margolin lets his actors do their jobs without needing to jazz up the frame.

Performances

Parker Posey, Fred Hechinger and Clark Gregg in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release.

(L to R) Parker Posey, Fred Hechinger and Clark Gregg in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

This is most definitely June Squibb’s film. The actor, who was 93 when she shot the movie, fully engages with the fact that this is her first leading role in a movie. And on the evidence of this (and, let’s be honest, performances in movies such as ‘Nebraska’), it was long, long overdue.

Squibb brings Thelma to life perfectly, channeling Margolin’s script and working to bring the character to the screens in believably fun ways. And her interactions with the rest of the cast are just as memorable.

Richard Roundtree –– the man who was Shaft back in the day –– is warm and involving as Thelma’s slightly estranged friend Ben, who she ropes into her mission mostly because she needs his motorized scooter. Roundtree, in his final performance, has easy chemistry with Squibb and the pair play well off of each other.

Fred Hechinger is also solid as her grandson Danny, a young man still searching for his place in life, who is fresh off a breakup and can’t seem to find the right gear (unless he’s driving). Hechninger has a fun vibe with Squibb, and also his own arc.

While Parker Posey and Clark Gregg don’t have the same screentime, and the nervy family subplot doesn’t always offer the same compelling reason to watch, they’re always entertaining and put their all into the roles.

Final Thoughts

Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

(L to R) Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

A truly original film that deserves to see success, ‘Thelma’ is well-written and superbly performed.

Action stars rarely see awards love, and even given the mid-year release, we wouldn’t be surprised if Squibb in particular ends up in the Oscar conversation for a nomination at the very least.

‘Thelma’ receives 8.5 out of 10 stars.

Thelma

"Revenge has never been sweeter."
PG-131 hr 38 minJun 21st, 2024
Showtimes & Tickets

What’s the story of ‘Thelma’?

The action comedy follows Thelma Post (June Squibb), a feisty 93-year-old grandmother who gets conned by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger) and sets out on a treacherous quest across Los Angeles, accompanied by aging friend Ben (Richard Roundtree) and his motorized scooter, to reclaim what was taken from her.

Who else is in ‘Thelma’?

The cast also features Parker Posey as Thelma’s daughter Gail, Clark Gregg as son-in-law Alan, and Malcolm McDowell as Harvey, the scammer she ultimately confronts.

Theatrical one-sheet for 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Theatrical one-sheet for 'Thelma', a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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