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Sweet “Thelma” Delivers Offbeat Charm

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 20th, 2024

Thelma (Josh Margolin, 2024) 3½ out of 5 stars

Based on what we see during Thelma’s end credits—offering the real-life footage that inspired this story—writer/director Josh Margolin (marking his feature debut) loves his grandmother. And if she’s anything like the titular character here, played by June Squibb (The Humans), there’s a lot to love. She may appear initially old and frail (not that those are bad qualities), but by the end of the story she has demonstrated deep wells of wit and guile we never could have guess she had. She brings most of what charm the movie delivers.

Thelma lives alone in the large house she shared with her now-deceased husband. She has a daughter, Gail (Parker Posey, Beau Is Afraid), who is married to Alan (Clark Gregg, Being the Ricardos), and they have a son, Daniel (Fred Hechinger, The Pale Blue Eye). Daniel is Margolin’s stand-in here, and he adores Thelma. Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a mess, a twentysomething who has never quite learned the ropes of how life works.

l-r: June Squibb and Fred Hechinger in THELMA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

But Daniel is in charge of assisting Thelma, which is how Gail and Alan justify not pushing for her to be in a retirement community. Unfortunately, when one day Thelma falls for a telephone scam and mails off $10,000 in cash, everyone’s worst fears are realized. Is it time to consider assisted living?

Not so fast. Thelma has other ideas. Taking matters into her own hands, she enlists a widower friend, Ben (the late, great Richard Roundtree, Moving On, in his last screen appearance), to help her get the money back. Or rather, she enlists (i.e., steals) his motorized wheelchair, and he takes off in hot pursuit. If that sounds like the film has a zany side, it sure does.

l-r: Richard Roundtree and June Squibb in THELMA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Still, though Margolin has fun on his mind, and enjoys indulging in action and espionage tropes, underneath it all his intentions are sincere and thoughtful. We all age, and we all lose our ability to do the things we used to take for granted, but that doesn’t mean we don’t matter. Thelma strikes a blow not only for herself, but all those who have been counted out as past their prime.

Daniel is himself in need of a confidence boost, and much to his delight he has a chance to shine, too. But most of the story belongs to Thelma and Ben, who track down the thieves and exact vengeance. The fact that one of them is played by the ever-charismatic Malcolm McDowell (She Will)—himself no spring chicken—is just the icing on this mostly delightful cinematic cake.

l-r: Parker Posey, Fred Hechinger and Clark Gregg in THELMA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Not every plot point appeals in equal measure, even if the overall takeaway is a rollicking good time. Some of the humor feels forced, particularly from Gail and Alan (as much as I like those actors), and at times Margolin struggles with tone. Ultimately, though, we root for him, just as we do for Thelma, Ben, and Daniel. May we all have many such adventures in store for years to come.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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