THE STORY – When 93-year-old Thelma Post gets duped by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson, she sets out on a treacherous quest across the city to reclaim what was taken from her.
THE CAST – June Squibb, Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, Parker Posey, Clark Gregg & Malcolm McDowell
THE TEAM – Josh Margolin (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes
Move over, Tom Cruise: your reign as king of action films is over now that Thelma Post has shown her skills. Sure, he may jump out of helicopters, fight people on top of fast-moving trains, and constantly risk his life, but has he ever escaped from a nursing home and successfully stopped a phone scammer in their money-stealing scheme? Unlikely. Writer-director Josh Margolin’s charming “Thelma” puts a clever and hilarious spin on movies such as those in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise by having a 93-year-old grandma be the hero of this story. His feature directorial debut shows that you’re never too old to be a badass, as the delightful June Squibb portrays, while also sensitively tackling issues regarding loneliness, aging, and seeking help.
Thelma (Squibb) is a sweet nonagenarian woman living on her own who occasionally needs help from her grandson, Daniel (Fred Hechinger), with accessing her emails. The scene is so relatable, with Daniel guiding Thelma through her inbox and showing her where to click — a completely foreign concept to a woman who would much rather spend her time filling up her weekly pill box or embroidering. But, she enjoys the company of her loveable, albeit lost in life, 24-year-old grandson, who, as they’re watching a “Mission: Impossible” film, explains that Cruise does all of his own stunts, which impresses Thelma. The next day, Thelma receives a call from an unknown number claiming to be Daniel, who says he’s in jail. She’s then told she needs to send $10,000 to a random P.O. Box to post bail. When Daniel, her daughter Gail (Parker Posey), and son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg) don’t answer their phones when she checks in with them, Thelma sends the money off to the post office. Soon enough, however, it’s revealed that she has been scammed, and there’s not much help she can expect from the police or others. Her family members then start to patronize her; they say she’s clearly not as sharp as she used to be a year ago, and this is enough to set her off. She’s ready to go on an impossible mission of her own: to get her money back.
This sets up the most unlikely yet charming action movie you’ll see this year. Thelma immediately faces setbacks; whoever she calls to be her sidekick has died. But, she still has a widower, Ben (Richard Roundtree), who lives in a nursing home. He wants to convince her that life in the facility isn’t so bad – he’s happy about all the classes, care, and activities he has available – but all she’s interested in is stealing his scooter. After a long, slow chase through the nursing home halls, she finally escapes, and he decides to join her in her quest. The action team-up of Squibb and the late Roundtree is one we never knew we needed, and they’re the only ones who could have nailed these roles. While the jokes poke fun at specific experiences the elderly go through, they never seem mean. In fact, this allows the script to have fun with this age group and to incorporate its unique qualities into the action. When did you last see two action stars utilizing a mobility scooter as their getaway vehicle? Margolin also uses Thelma and Ben’s Bluetooth hearing aids as their earpieces, and she gets her family off her tail by activating her FitBit, which misdirects them in their quest to find her. Though the supporting characters are not as vital to the story, they still keep the action pace going as they search for Thelma, including a hilarious Waze-driving snafu.
But “Thelma” is more than just a comedy. Margolin can sensitively incorporate issues that seniors all around the world struggle with, from loneliness and memory loss to facing their mortality. Thelma and Ben stop by a friend’s house so that Thelma can retrieve a gun, and they see how much old age has affected their old friend: she doesn’t know what day it is, and she clearly longs for the company. Thelma is also reluctant to ask for help from Ben or her family, not wanting to accept that she’s not the sharp and agile woman she was years ago. We also get to see how age and mortality have influenced the person behind the phone scam, leading to a great cameo from Malcolm McDowell. Margolin’s “Thelma” isn’t a woe-is-me tale, nor does it send a message that we should pity the elderly – quite the opposite. He and Squibb remind everyone that, yes, the elderly might not be as spry as they once were, but that doesn’t mean that they’re incapable of taking care of business when needed. It’s also a great reminder to call your elderly loved ones, tell them they’re badasses, and spend as much precious time as you can with them.