Photograph: Universal
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3 out of 5 stars

June Squibb goes full Ethan Hunt in a charming action-comedy about growing old daringly

Phil de Semlyen

Time Out says

Not so much ‘fast and furious’ as slow and serene, Thelma is a nonagenarian action-comedy that’s taken its pills and will stop at nothing on a madcap quest for justice. Apart from platform lifts and particularly steep steps.

Writer-director Josh Margolin draws inspiration from his own family for a likeable indie that wants you to think about ageing differently – and succeeds in warm-hearted style. His debut delivers pearls of wisdom about intergenerational family dynamics and the constraints (and freedoms) that come with old age, as Thelma, a 93-year-old grandma, sets off to track down the scammers who have ripped her off. 

Played by the wonderful Squibb and based on the director’s own gran, Thelma Post is still a life force: living independently and knocking about with her loveable but lost grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger, soon to be a villain in Gladiator II). Then comes a mysterious call: Danny has been arrested and $10,000 is needed to bail him out. To the horror of her fretful daughter (Parker Posey) and know-it-all son-in-law (Clark Gregg), she mails a bundle of cash to the San Fernando Valley PO Box address specified by the fraudsters.

Thelma is neither as funny nor as Marmite-y as Little Miss Sunshine, a kindred spirit in the quirky indie realm, but its light shines in myriad little character beats. Many of them involve Richard Roundtree – John Shaft himself – as Thelma’s old pal Ben, who reluctantly absconds from his care home, mainly because Thelma has stolen his mobility scooter. 

June Squibb offers a timely reminder that you’re never too old to be awesome

Instead of annoying slapstick, the comedy stems from a recurring Mission: Impossible riff, which sets its slow-motion derring-do to Lalo Schifrin-y cues. When the joke clicks, like when Thelma gives a snooping Ben covert earpiece instructions, it works a treat.

And the pair are great together, jostling over their next moves, reminiscing about younger days and laying out their contrasting approaches to reaching the end of the line: kick back and face the infinite gracefully (him), or just make the road a whole lot longer (her).

Squibb, who made a belated big-screen breakthrough in a pair of Alexander Payne films – About Schmidt and Nebraska – that took a similarly sideways look at the perils and joys of getting on a bit, is delightful as the materteral Thelma, an innately kind soul not above rolling up her sleeves and administering some payback. Her late late-life renaissance serves as a timely reminder that you’re never too old to be awesome. 

In UK cinemas Jul 19

Cast and crew

  • Director:Josh Margolin
  • Screenwriter:Josh Margolin
  • Cast:
    • Richard Roundtree
    • June Squibb
    • Clark Gregg
    • Parker Posey
    • Fred Hechinger
    • Malcolm McDowell
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