A 93-year-old woman finds herself falling victim to a phone scammer in Thelma and sets out on an adventure to reclaim what is hers.
I’m glad that the film is available on the Sundance Film Festival viewing app. Many films in the Premieres section are not available for virtual viewing. While watching from my apartment, one of my thoughts was that it requires a shared communal experience. This is why I’m hoping it gets a theatrical release at some point down the road. It’s currently seeking distribution and I hope a distributor acquires it!
June Squibb has been in the business since 1948, including an Oscar-nominated performance in Nebraska and a scene-stealing role in Summer ’03. It’s only at 93 years old (during filming) that the veteran actress has her first leading role. All I can say is that it’s about damn time. This really is her film as first time feature filmmaker Josh Margolin bases the film on real life events with his grandmother. There are some differences in real life but this film kind of goes off on a Mission: Impossible adventure. It isn’t quite at the same action level as a Tom Cruise movie with death-defying stunts although Squibb does most of her own stunts. There’s no climbing up a skyscraper, jumping out of a helicopter, or driving a motorcycle off a cliff, etc. However, one can potentially see Cruise doing this sort of work into his 80s or 90s.
There’s a scene in the film featuring footage from Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Thankfully, Tom Cruise gave his approval. It makes the scene work even better because of their conversation. But anyway, the stunts in the film are not anything like what we’ve seen from Cruise. Regardless, Thelma Post (June Squibb) gives her family a fright when she runs across town. Unlike many people her age, she’s not in an assisted living center. Instead, she’s still enjoying life in her condo, however much one can enjoy life at that age. That is until she finds herself the victim of a phone scam, thinking it is grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger). We all know people who have been there. Other people might call the cops but not Thelma. She recruits Ben (Richard Roundtree) to aid in getting her $10K back.
The film also serves as Richard Roundtree’s final on-screen performance. It’s a worthy performance for the Shaft star. He plays Ben in way that shows the character being both heroic and vulnerable at the same time. Honestly, the two actors pair well together. In as much as it wouldn’t be a film without June Squibb, it wouldn’t be a film without Roundtree in the role. The filmmakers dedicate the action comedy in his memory. There was talk of a sequel during the post-premiere film team Q&A but let’s be honest, it would not be the same without Squibb and Roundtree’s chemistry. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be against a sequel but they’d have to find a worthy equal.
Parker Posey and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Clark Gregg round out the cast as Thelma’s daughter, Gail, and son-in-law, Alan. Margolin’s screenplay gives them plenty of opportunities to show off their comedic side. Even when they’re worried about Thelma, there is not a single laugh that feels cheap.
Thelma is not the typical action film but it’s a spectacular first feature from filmmaker Josh Margolin and June Squibb delivers one of the best performances in her career. How many action films give the leading role to someone in their 90s? Not many, I assume.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Josh Margolin
CAST: June Squibb, Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, with Clark Gregg, Parker Posey, and Malcolm McDowell, Nicole Byer, Quinn Beswick, Coral Peña, Aidan Fiske, Bunny Levine
Thelma holds its world premiere during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section. Grade: 5/5
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