‘Thelma’: June Squibb Is a Wronged Grandma Out for Revenge in Long-Overdue Leading Role

June Squibb has been acting for nearly 80 years, winning viewers’ hearts, and one Oscar nomination, in a variety of supporting roles. For whatever reasons, lead rules have been elusive to her, but that all changes with the action comedy “Thelma.” At age 94, the seasoned actress tackles her first starring role as Thelma Post, a doting grandmother done wrong. After being scammed out of ten grand, Thelma refuses to accept defeat and allow herself to be carted off to the nearest nursing home. Instead, she goes on a little adventure in order to take back what is rightfully hers. The result is a wild ride that is filled with laugh-out-loud moments while digging deep into what it means to age in today’s world

Based on writer-director Josh Margolin’s own grandmother, Thelma is first introduced being taught how to use a computer and navigate Instagram by her Zoomer grandson, Danny (Fred Hechinger). Thelma appears to be the person who best understands the lovable, failure-to-launch Danny, and vice versa. One thing they have in common is that they are underestimated by Danny’s parents, Thelma’s tightly-wound therapist daughter, Gail (Parker Posey), and her husband, Alan (Clark Gregg). A widow of two years, Thelma enjoys her independence, but an unfortunate incident jeopardizes that. 

It is an ordinary morning when Thelma receives a call from an unknown number claiming to be her grandson. He says he’s been injured in an accident he caused and tells her to call a number. She does, and the person on the line demands that she send the ten grand to a P.O. box in order to get her grandson out of trouble. It’s all very jarring to watch unfold, and Margolin shoots the sequence of Thelma heading to the post office as if she is a secret agent on a dangerous mission. But the truth comes out after Danny awakens from his late morning slumber. 

Afterwards, Thelma overhears Gail and Alan discuss putting her in assisted living, something Danny is against. “Wobbly but determined,” as Danny describes her, and inspired by Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible,” Thelma takes it upon herself to track down the scammers through the P.O. box location and get her money back. She ends up enlisting an old friend, nursing home resident Ben (the late Richard Roundtree in his final role), to help her, and they set off on his motorized scooter.

“Thelma” is the perfect showcase for Squibb to show off her range. She can be funny, vulnerable, and even fearsome. The film milks a lot of humor out of what it is like to live to an advanced age, but Thelma is not treated as an object of ridicule. Margolin does an excellent job of melding humor with heart, such as when Thelma calls a long list of friends for help, only to learn that they all are either incapacitated, have relocated, or are dead. Aging understandably frustrates her, but she recognizes that this is preferable to the alternative. Squibb and Roundtree bring out the best in each other, such as when they’re debating the merits of being in a nursing home. Is Ben weak for going to such a place, or is he strong for admitting he needs the assistance?

All of this leads to a memorable, even explosive climax. Squibb, Margolin and Roundtree have fun leaning into action film tropes. Hearing aids become spy gadgets and a motorized scooter is a suitable getaway vehicle. Malcolm McDowell is a welcome late addition, playing against type as a downscale villain. He manages to be both menacing and pathetic, inspiring both anger and pity from Thelma and the viewer. If there is anything to take away from “Thelma” besides how awesome Squibb is, it is to not underestimate or overlook our senior citizens.

Thelma” releases June 21 in theaters nationwide.