Richard Roundtree, June Squibb Star in “Thelma”

By Dwight Brown
NNPA News Wire


They shouldn’t have messed with this granny. She’s coming for them—and she’s packing heat!

Writer/actor and first-time director Josh Margolin has a wild imagination. One he honed while a member of various improvisational groups. He also has a 103-year-old grandmother he loves dearly. Hence the hilarity and premise of this scorned grandma movie that is a consistently endearing, low-budget indie film. For nearly 98 minutes (editor Margolin), every moment in this action/comedy has a purpose and is so fun to watch your eyes won’t veer from the screen.

Thelma Post (June Squibb, Nebraska) is 93years old and still living alone in her L.A. home. She’s adored by her under ambitious, irresponsible grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger, The Underground Railroad), a twenty something who can’t keep a job. Possibly he was over coddled by his mom (Parker Posey) and dad (Clark Gregg). Maybe he has mental/emotional issues. Nonetheless, Thelma still loves him.

Parker Posey_Fred Hechinger_Clark Gregg in Thelma.
Parker Posey_Fred Hechinger_Clark Gregg in Thelma.

And so, that day she gets a desperate phone call from Danny, with this weird voice, and he says he needs $10,000 for bail as he’s been jailed after an incident, Thelma steps up to the plate. “I’m going to need to mail $10,000 to this address.” She sends the money off, only to find out that she’s been scammed. A con man tricked her and impersonated her grandson. The feisty nonagenarian is pissed!!! She’s aided by her old friend Ben (Richard Roundtree, Shaft), her deceased husband’s best bud. The two head to Van Nuys, CA, aboard Ben’s trusty, two-person electric mobility scooter.They’re gonna retrieve her money. One way or another. At gunpoint if they have to!

The scam call setup focusses on a problem many seniors face and law enforcement can do little about. That idea seeds a very engaging storyline that has a natural momentum. She’s got to find the culprits. Anyone who goes along on her ride, in a theater or from a couch with a bag of chips, will follow her quest until it ends. In this case, that ending has plenty of off ramps but struggles to find a definitive final moment before it hits a good one. That’s the only part of Margolin’s very thoughtful, playful and emotionally involving script that faulters. Otherwise, what’s on screen is so fresh it’s as if the writer/director was back in his improv days, asked audience members for a suggestion for a skit, and someone blurted out: “An old woman gets scammed by a con artist and…” Then he acted on it.

Viewers will love the main and supporting characters that inhabit Thelma’s world and the ones she meets along the way. All of them have distinctive personalities that the cast turns into animated portrayals. Squibb thoroughly embodies a determined old woman who’s fired up and not going to take any s— off anybody: “What about my money? Am I supposed to let them just have it!!!!” She doesn’t come off like a super hero, doesn’t have super powers and the script gives her all of the characteristics, aches and pains a much older woman would have. Within those confines, Squibb takes care of business. She’s blunt, not tech savvy, has vision issues… and she exploits the potential of each of those secondary characteristics quite well. Love her demeanor and sense of humor.

Roundtree couldn’t be more charming as the nursing home patient who is eager to have his debut in the home’s presentation of Annie, but more than willing to jeopardize that chance to help his old friend. Roundtree passed away October 2023, and this performance is a great coda to his storied career. Hechinger rides the thin line between loser son and doting grandson well. Parker is manic as the frantic mother and nursing home employees Rochelle and Colin, played by Nicole Byer and Quinn Beswick, act like they really are bewildered. If there is a letdown, it’s the lead scammer role (Malcolm McDowell). Wish that part was more demonic or grandiose so McDowell could have played it up. He’s the actor from A Clockwork Orange, give him room to be flashy.

At times, Thelma encounters peoples he thinks she knows but really doesn’t. It’s an idiosyncrasy that isn’t unusual for people who’ve lived a very long life. That and other challenges they face are on view in this touching film. From older people living alone and facing dementia to the peculiarities of nursing homes. Nice to find a writer who can share the everyday issues, indignities and oddities seniors face in a funny respectful and non-condescending way. Just humorous observations with touches of action film satire thrown in for good measure.

Margolin’s direction is fluid throughout and never gets in the way. The homes (production designer Brielle Hubert) reflect the kind of interior spaces older people live in. The kinds that look like they’re from another era. The seniors’ clothes (costume designer Amanda Wing Yee Lee) seem properly worn. Music swirls around the daring escapes, dramatic moments and whimsical scenes appropriately (composer Nick Chuba). Every gag, interaction and step of Thelma’s harrowing trek is well documented by cinematographer David Bolen. That said, the film’s tiny budget is obvious.

Thelma is here to lead super senior citizens into the 21st century and protect their dignity. Don’t cross her. She’s packing heat and laughs.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email