Hannah Strong


Thelma – first-look review

June Squibb is a delight in this sweet comedy about an irrepressible 93-year-old who won't take being scammed lying down.

At 93 years old, Thelma Post (June Squibb) remains fiercely independent, living in the California home she shared with her late husband despite her family’s concerns that she’s too frail to be on her own. Her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger) has more faith in her – maybe because she’s the only one who seems to have any faith in him – and visits regularly, helping Thelma learn how to use her computer and filling her in on how things are going with his ex-girlfriend.

But one morning, Thelma gets a frantic phone call from someone claiming to be Danny, explaining he’s been in a car accident and needs her to bail him out of jail. Sweet Thelma springs into action to help her grandson and promptly posts $10,000 to a PO box…only for it to transpire that Danny was fast asleep in bed, and Thelma has been the victim of a particularly insidious phone scam.

When the police are indifferent to Thelma’s plight, she refuses to take no for an answer, and sets out on a mission to reclaim what was taken. After convincing her friend Ben (Richard Roundtree) to lend her his mobility scooter – which he agrees to, as long as they’re back in time for his starring role in the care home’s production of Annie – she sets off to track down the thieves and get her money back.

A zany road movie follows, taking cues from The Straight Story (although lacking the rambling magic of Lynch’s film) and Little Miss Sunshine as Thelma makes her way to the PO Box in question while her daughter (Parker Posey), son-in-law (Clark Gregg) and Danny try to track her down. The narrative is pretty straightforward, though Squibb and Roundtree’s delightful exchanges keep the energy up as they bicker about her stubborn quest for retribution.

Even with its feather-light tone, the film does effectively ramp up the tension when Thelma appears to get in over her head, and she’s able to weaponise the perception of her as a doddering old lady. The drive of the film as an inspirational riposte against ageism seems a little patronising (in the vain of ‘They’ve still got it!’ classics such as Going in Style and The Bucket List) and Thelma fits rather too neatly into the classic Sundance formula (quirky but sort of forgettable American indie comedy) but there’s no doubting June Squibb’s charisma, and it’s refreshing to see her in a lead role at the grand age of 94.

Published 31 Jan 2024

Tags: June Squibb

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