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Review: Thelma (2024)

Thelma (2024)

Directed by: Josh Margolin

Premise: An elderly woman (June Squibb) is conned out of thousands of dollars by a telephone scammer. She and a friend (Richard Roundtree) track down her money.  

What Works: Thelma has a wacky conceit but it’s really about independence and dignity and those ideas are dramatized through vivid and likable characters. The film centers on two relationships. Thelma reunites with her old friend Ben and together they attempt to trace the scammers and recover her money. Thelma lives in an apartment whereas Ben resides in a nursing home and they contented with staff and family members who try to control their lives. Thelma is independent but Ben has embraced his assisted living situation and their journey dramatizes their desire for self-determination but also the realities of aging and the limits that time has imposed on their abilities. It’s a nuanced and realistic take on aging. The film has the requisite old person jokes but these lines are often delivered by the elderly characters and with the humor of recognition and honesty. The other central relationship of the film is between Thelma and her adult grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger). Their relationship is sweet and likable but there is a parallel between their stories. Daniel is adrift and at a loss for what to do with himself and Daniel’s parents (Parker Posey and Clark Gregg) alternately condescend and coddle him. Both grandmother and grandson are made to feel helpless and the story is about both characters asserting themselves. The parallel between Thelma and Daniel is indicative of one of the film’s great strengths which is its unity and structure. Virtually everything in Thelma is set up and paid off in ways that are very satisfying. Despite its silly concept, Thelma also has moments of tension. The climax is quite tense and the film is very entertaining.

What Doesn’t: Thelma suffers from a lot of implausibilities. The con artist’s post office box is not only in the same city but it is within a few hours drive by electric scooter. Upon arriving at the postal address, Thelma and Ben only have to wait a few minutes before they find a lead that directs them to the scammer’s headquarters. While Thelma and Ben are on their adventure, Thelma’s family and the nursing home staff try to track them down. The elder characters use cellphones which ought to make them traceable.

Bottom Line: Thelma is an entertaining comedy with great characters, good humor, and some profound insights about aging and autonomy. A few troublesome details aside, this is a nearly perfect example of narrative structure and cohesion.

Episode: #1002 (June 30, 2024)