Credit: David Bolen/Courtesy of Sundance Institute
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Horizon Line

Thelma — Josh Margolin

June 19, 2024

It’s hard to find much at all to say about Thelma, an agreeably light, mostly affectionate comedy that basically seems calculated to make you want to call your grandma. Put differently: it’s aggressively fine. June Squibb is the eponymous Thelma, a widower who really enjoys hanging out with her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger) while they watch movies or he tries to help her use the computer. One day, Thelma gets a phone call from someone who sounds an awful lot like Danny. He says he’s in trouble after a car accident, and that he needs her to send $10,000 to a P.O. Box. Unfortunately, she falls for the obvious scam — fun bit of digression: someone called this critic’s parents once claiming they’d kidnapped me for ransom — and when Danny is of course revealed to be safe and sound, Thelma is duly pissed off and humiliated.

Enlisting the help of old buddy Ben (Richard Roundtree, in his final performance) — and Ben’s motorized scooter — Thelma decides to track down the scammers. What follows is about as bland a geriatric comic odyssey as one could expect, peppered with some wry but melancholy observations about aging and the occasional cornball joke about, say, hearing aids or not knowing how email works. The script, from writer-director Josh Margolin, tries to occasionally mine some humor out of the ways our elders are sometimes downright weird and annoying, but for the most part sticks to affectionate cuteness and comedic predictability. Somewhat more amusing are Danny’s parents: Thelma’s daughter Gail (Parker Posey) and her husband Alan (Clark Gregg), who seem to be in a movie-adjacent sitcom about being failed helicopter parents to a doofus. Their bickering starts out as a high point in the film, but they ultimately have almost nothing to do in the story and we’re left missing their presence.

That’s mostly because Squibb is the whole show here, and if one enjoyed her presence in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, it’s likely she will register as similarly charming here. Roundtree, for his part, gets most of the funnier moments simply by virtue of his character’s exasperation with Thelma. And if you make it to the end, Malcolm McDowell turns up for a final couple of scenes that toy with the idea of some actual suspense, but mostly settle for nicely closing out the plot instead. Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Thelma being a nice movie with a few chuckles and the occasional droplet of platitude about aging and dignity, and it really doesn’t matter that the whole thing looks like pretty much any given episode of television. It’s simply a pleasant enough film, replete with the low ceiling and respectable floor that comes part and parcel with such amiable but unambitious efforts.

DIRECTOR: Josh Margolin;  CAST: June Squibb, Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, Parker Posey;  DISTRIBUTOR: Magnolia Pictures;  IN THEATERS: June 21;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.