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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob


June 29, 2024
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob

An elderly woman is determined to recover the money she was cheated out of in a phone scam, in a comedy that challenges ageist stereotypes.

Thelma, the debut feature from writer and director Josh Margolin, opens with the title character, a 93-year-old woman played by June Squibb, being taught by her grandson how to use email on her computer. Her difficulties learning such things as how to scroll down using a mouse, or what to do when an ad pops up, are a familiar source of humor, but instead of a broad farcical approach, it’s funny while seeming natural and wholly plausible. Fred Hechinger projects gentle patience as the grandson, Daniel, and as for Squibb—this is her movie all the way, built around her quirky personality, which seems not at all some caricature of an old person, but a genuine portrait of humanity.

The plot begins with Thelma getting robbed in a phone scam. This is not intended to be particularly funny. Unscrupulous characters cheating vulnerable older citizens through phone, texts, or emails—this is an unfortunate reality that has become more and more frequent in recent years. We can only groan in sympathy as we see Thelma taken in, and sending ten thousand dollars in the mail to supposedly post bail for her grandson. Of course she feels like an idiot when her family figures out that she’s fallen victim to scammers. They all say there’s nothing she can do about it, so just let go and stop worrying. But Thelma won’t let go. A strong-willed woman given to obsessions, she’s determined to somehow get her money back.

The actors playing Thelma’s family, in addition to Hechinger, are good. Her daughter, Daniel’s mom, is played by one of my favorite performers, Parker Posey, and Clark Gregg is amusingly low-key as the dad. The plot is of course, quite implausible if you step back and think about it, which you don’t because it’s an enjoyable easy-going comedy, and a fine excuse for showcasing June Squibb’s considerable comic talents. A lot of the humor lies in the contrast between the family’s view of Thelma as a simple lovable lady who can’t take care of herself, and the outrageous action that she chooses to embark upon. They underestimate her at every turn, and truth to tell, she sometimes acts more than a little crazy.

Thelma enlists a friend at an assisted living facility, played by the veteran actor Richard Roundtree, to help pull off her scheme. Roundtree, in his final film appearance (sadly, he passed away last year), adds a lot of depth to the picture. He’s as natural and relaxed a performer you could ever want, with sharp comic timing, and a good match for Squibb.

Margolin’s ability to make us believe and sympathize with all his characters is a rare strength. And far too often in comedies the elderly are depicted as cute & lovable, unbelievably witty and outrageous, or some other exaggeration. Margolin opts for a measured approach in both character and situation, which makes the laughs in this movie feel earned.
The screenplay is funny without having to try too hard, and the  film has a feeling of real affection. Thelma is a surprising little treat.

elderly,   family,   Respect,   scam,   scooter,  


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