Thelma (2024)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Josh Margolin
Run Time
1 hour and 38 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    do not forsake me when my strength is spent.

Psalm 71:9
Thelma & old friend Ben set off on his scooter to find the crook who scammed her. (c) Magnolia Pictures

It is a delight to come across another film with an elderly person as the main character, showing that life does not end at 80. Inspired by a real-life Thelma who is now 103, director  Josh Margolin’s movie Thelma is centered on a 93-year-old that gives actress June Squibb a chance to shine. It is also the last film of the wonderful actor Richard Roundtree, co-starring as her long-time friend and partner in this funny escapade.

Thelma is still able, even at 93, to live on her own in the San Fernando Valley home she shared with her deceased husband. She spends her days with embroidering and watching the news. She is closer temperamentally to her 24-year-old grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) than to her busy daughter Gail (Parkey Posey) and son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg). Danny has been unable to get over a romantic breakup, and he is convinced he has no talent or redeeming qualities, as seems evident by his lack of a job or any effort to find one. However, the young man makes himself available to his grandmother, driving her to wherever she wants to go and patiently helping her to navigate her computer and the Internet.

The action begins—yes, this is an action film featuring a geriatric heroine!—when Thelma answers the phone, and the caller claims to be her grandson in need of $10,000 because he is in jail. Panicked, Thelma jots down the address to which she is to send the money, arranges its withdrawal from her account, and mails it off. Soon realizing she has been scammed, she tells her family, and they go to the police. The officer explains this is a frequent event, about which they can do nothing, especially because she cannot find the slip of paper on which she had written the address. Gail begins to think her mother needs to give up her independent living, but she will soon see that she underestimates her mother.

The latter is not about to accept as the last word the verdict that she can do nothing about the scam. Thelma has been watching a Tom Cruise film, this perhaps inspiring her to set out on her own “Mission Impossible.” She combs through her trash, finds the paper with the address, a USP store in a distant suburb. The sequence in which she starts phoning friends who might help her is both funny and poignant. One has died of a heart attack. Another a stroke. And so on down her list, except for her old friend Ben (Roundtree), He has an electric scooter on which she could drive herself to the scammer’s address, and so she contacts Danny to transport her to Ben’s home to borrow the vehicle. (Why she does not want Danny to drive her directly to the drop box is not explained, except that it would have eliminated some very funny sequences with Ben if she had.)

Ben keeps busy at his retirement home by taking classes and playing Daddy Warbucks  in a senior citizen version of Annie.* He is dubious about her trying to drive across L.A. in his prize possession, so when she asks to try it out in the halls of the home and ditch him, there is a wild and funny chase scene. When Ben at last catches up with her, he insists on going with her, both for the sake of his scooter and her own protection. Thus, the film becomes a road trip story, with the scooter standing in for the usual car.

The duo makes a stop at the cluttered home of Mona, one of Thelma’s still living female friends, because she has a hidden gun which just might come in handy. While Ben talks with the lonely old woman, Thelma, on the pretext of “using the bathroom,” manages to climb the steep stairway, enter the woman’s bedroom and struggle to reach the gun in its box on a tall shelf.

Meanwhile the daughter and husband join Danny at Ben’s retirement home when Grandma does not return to him in his car. They talk with the staff as they fret over what could have happened to Thelma and Ben. The three worried family members set out to find them and almost do at the filling station where Thelma and Ben have stopped to recharge the scooter’s battery. The day stretches into evening with our duo still not arriving at their destination. They bicker, even parting when, due to Thelma’s carelessness the scooter is destroyed by a hit and run driver. Trudging on alone, Thelma falls. She cannot get up by herself.  Fortunately for Thelma, Ben reconsiders leaving her all alone and finds her during a moment of distress.

A chance run-in with another old friend—also still living—provides the means for the pair to arrive at the Dropbox site, where they station themselves on a bench to wait for the scammer to show up again. What happens afterwards is as satisfying as any climax of a superhero action film, minus all the pyrotechnics. The  scammer turns out to be a teenager working with his grandfather who owns the antique shop where they find the culprits. The man Harvey (Malcolm McDowall) even has a poignant excuse for his criminal activity, claiming that business is so bad that he is about to lose his shop. Hence, his taking up scamming. “Nobody cares about old things,” he laments, unknowingly voicing a complaint of many of the isolated elderly.

There are a couple of unlikely plot coincidences that  are a bit hard to swallow, but June Squibb and Richard Roundtree are so good in their geriatric roles, and their chemistry together so warm, that we can easily lay this objection aside. Although some of the antics, such as the chasing after the scooter at the care facility are madcap comedy, their portrayal of the two main characters make us aware of the problems of being old in a culture that worships youthfulness.

Fred Hechinger as Daniel also adds a great measure of pathos to the film as an unsure young man who has not yet found his path in life. The only sure thing is his love for and devoted support of his grandmother. The scene in which he pours out his heart you will long remember. No worlds to defend against titanic events in this little film, but if you can root for a feisty woman who will not accept an injustice committed against her, and who even with one foot in her grave, enters into a new, far deeper relationship with an old friend, you might have found one of your favorite films of the year,

*This reminds me of the film Ghostlight in which a group of mostly middle-aged and elderly persons are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet, with Juliet played by a sprite of a woman in her sixties. T

This review is in the July issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *