Thelma

Thelma

2024, PG-13, 98 min. Directed by Joshua Margolin. Starring June Squibb, Richard Roundtree, Fred Hechinger, Parker Posey, Clark Gregg, Chase Kim, Malcolm McDowell.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., June 21, 2024

Cinema loves a sassy old lady, but just as comedy relief. How often have you watched a movie and suddenly there’s a gun-toting granny in the third act, or an adorable mee maw who suddenly delivers some obscenity-riddled anecdote about an assignation with a Roosevelt in the Algonquin bathroom? But movies about nonagenarians are rare. Movies about nonagenarians as rounded, self-possessed characters? Unicorns.

There’s something particularly delicious about June Squibb getting her first leading cinematic role at the age of 94. After all, she didn’t make her onscreen debut until she was in her 50s, prior to which she was best known as a stage actor. She headed to the silver screen at the point in her life when women are more likely than ever to get confined to supporting roles, even if that’s where she’s excelled (including an Oscar nod for Nebraska). She’s become America’s gram-gram, constantly in demand because she’s immediately charming and fascinating, a white-haired everywoman with a little twist of something devious underneath.

Finally, rather than getting a little of her in a lot of films and shows, now we get a lot of her in one film. One must ask: Why were we denied this joy for so long? Thanks to writer-director Josh Margolin, she’s center stage once more as Thelma, a somewhat independent widow in California, trying to navigate all the complexities of modern life as her mind and body give out on her. Then, as happens to so many old people (including Margolin’s own grandmother), she gets scammed. It’s that modern variant of a classic, the Spanish Prisoner. Send some cash, and an innocent person gets out of jail. In this case, it’s her grandson, who ran over some pregnant woman and now needs $10,000. Like a good grandmother, of course she puts the money in an envelope and sends it to those nice people helping her boy. When she realizes she’s been duped off, she sets off to get her money back. But she’s not driven by vengeance. It’s embarrassment.

Margolin hasn’t just cartoonishly stuck an old lady into a generic revenger. Instead, Thelma has more in common with The Straight Story than it does Point Blank. This is a film about what it’s like to be old, explained with grace and humor, all wrapped up in a comedy-action setting. Well, as much action as you can get when the hero’s getaway vehicle is an electric scooter. It’s all summed up in a line from Richard Roundtree (in his final, wonderful performance) as Ben, her unwilling partner in vengeance: “We’re not what we were,” he yells at her, and that’s an understatement. Thelma’s initial attempts to find help have been derailed by time (hard to get the gang back together when they’re dead, senile, or in Canada). So all her solutions to her problem come from being who she is – an old lady who is struggling with loss, loneliness, working out how to deal with pop-ups on the computer. After all, her biggest enemy isn’t gangsters. It’s stairs.

Thelma would make a perfect double bill with Sasie Sealy‘s delicious senior citizen noir from 2020, Lucky Grandma, because they get past the novelty of age quickly. Both have deeper insights, and in Thelma’s case it’s about how adults are often infantilized – whether it be Thelma herself or her twentysomething loving but directionless grandson Danny (Hechinger), who can’t get taken seriously by his parents (Gregg and Posey, embodying supportive dismissiveness). Under the gimmick, Squibb’s charm, her gutsiness, and her sharp, subtle humor fill the movie with warmth and veracity. May we all age like her.

Showtimes

AFS Cinema

6406 N. I-35 Ste. 3100, 512/322-0145, www.austinfilm.org/cinema

Mon., July 22

digital 4:15

Wed., July 24

digital 4:30

Mon., July 22

digital 2:45

Tue., July 23

digital 2:45

Gateway Theatre

9700 Stonelake, 512/416-5700

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Mon., July 22

digital 12:20, 3:30

Tue., July 23

digital 12:20, 3:30

Wed., July 24

digital 12:20, 3:30

Thu., July 25

digital 12:20, 3:30

Mon., July 22

digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30, 4:30
digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30, 4:30
digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30, 4:30

Tue., July 23

digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30, 4:30
digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30, 4:30
digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30, 4:30

Wed., July 24

digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30
digital 11:00am, 11:00am, 4:30, 4:30

Southwest Theaters at Lake Creek 7

13729 Research #1500, 512/291-3158, www.southwesttheaters.com

$6.50 children and senior tickets (all-day), $5 Tuesdays (all tickets), Bargain Matinees before 5pm daily.

Mon., July 22

digital 11:10am, 1:30

Tue., July 23

digital 11:10am, 1:30

Wed., July 24

digital 11:10am, 1:30

Thu., July 25

digital 11:10am

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READ MORE
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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Thelma, Joshua Margolin, June Squibb, Richard Roundtree, Fred Hechinger, Parker Posey, Clark Gregg, Chase Kim, Malcolm McDowell

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