Male actors routinely get to play action heroes after they’re past retirement age, so why shouldn’t a female actor have the same opportunity? Oscar nominee June Squibb has the chance to do just that in Thelma, a movie that’s sort of a cross between Driving Miss Daisy and the Jason Statham flick The Beekeeper. She plays Thelma Post, a 93-year-old grandma who gets conned out of $10,000 in a telephone scam. Her daughter Gail (Parker Posey), son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg), and screw-up grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) all encourage her to learn from the situation and move on.

Moving on is not in Thelma’s vocabulary, though. Armed with only a P.O. box, she sets out to find the scammers and demand her money back. Assisting her is an old friend, Ben (Richard Roundtree). Ben thinks her plan is crazy, but since Thelma is intent on stealing his mobility scooter, he goes AWOL from the nursing home to join her on a low-speed trek across the city. Her family, meanwhile, frantically attempts to locate her.

There are moments in Thelma that play on action movie cliches. Filming her scooter rides as though they’re Fast & Furious-style chases is funny, as is a bit that puts a geriatric spin on the old cliché of characters not flinching as they walk away from an explosion occurring behind them. An entire action scene is built around Thelma trying to use a computer mouse. These elements work because Squibb is so endearing in the lead role. She makes sure the jokes stay true to the character, an approach that yields frequent big laughs.

Underneath the comedy, writer/director Josh Margolin gets at a bigger idea, namely that senior citizens need stimulation. Thelma doesn’t want to spend her days staring at a television set inside a nursing home. At 93, she knows her time is limited. Going after the scammers gives her a much-needed purpose. Ben, played with great dignity and warmth by Roundtree, starts off mostly protecting his scooter, yet comes to realize that he, too, is benefiting from the adventure. Thelma speaks meaningfully to the concept of not letting old age prevent you from living.

Since his name is in the opening credits, it’s no spoiler to say that Malcolm McDowell plays Harvey, the head scammer. The movie’s conclusion doesn’t entirely go the way you expect. This guy has his own motivation, which I won’t spoil, that plays off Thelma’s in a really thoughtful manner. Even though Margolin is going for the broadest laughs here, he still manages to create an antagonist with depth. Rather than existing as a generic bad guy, Harvey helps to advance the film’s themes.

Are the events that take place in Thelma implausible? Yes, some of them are. And that’s okay because the excellent ensemble cast, led by the amazing June Squibb, grounds them in a story that has identifiable family dynamics and compassion for the elderly at its core. The movie is often hilarious because of their efforts. Besides, who wouldn't want to see an old lady embracing her inner Shaft while having the real Shaft sitting on the back of her scooter? Someone who hates fun, obviously.

Who’s the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about? Thelma! You’re damn right.

out of four

Thelma is rated PG-13 for strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan