THELMA: JUNE SQUIBB RULES The Global Tofay Global Today

I don’t like movies that portray senior citizens as cute; that’s a pitfall for any film that depicts older people in a lighthearted vein. Josh Margolin dances around it rather well in Thelma, a film inspired by his real-life grandmother who is now 103. He has had the good fortune to land 93-year-old June Squibb (whom you may remember from Alexander Payne’s Nebraska) to take the leading role in this modest but satisfying movie.

Squibb, like the character she plays, is remarkably self-reliant and approaches the role without a trace of sentimentality. That’s one of Thelma’s major virtues. Margolin set out to make a parody of an action film with elderly people in the leading roles. Squibb’s partner in crime, so to speak, is none other than Richard Roundtree—Shaft himself—in an endearing performance. (He died shortly after completing production on this picture, which is dedicated to his memory.) Parker Posey and Clark Gregg costar as the neurotic parents of man-child Fred Hechinger, who loves his grandma and does his best to protect her. As it turns out, his best is none too good, so she determines to go it alone: she seeks revenge on the unknown scam artist who convinced her to send him cash through the mail. It’s no spoiler to say that the role is filled by Malcolm McDowell, whose name in the opening credits subvert any possibility of surprise.

If it weren’t for casting a bona fide nonagenarian in the title role, Thelma might not work at all. But it doesn’t pander to its audience and treats its characters with dignity and a dash of comic exaggeration. Thelma’s adventure is depicted as a senior version of Tom Cruise’s derring-do in the Mission: Impossible series and the conceit comes off surprisingly well.


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