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Sundance 2024 Review: Thelma – “pitch perfect, hilarious, touching and respectful.”

Richard Roundtree and June Squibb appear in Thelma by Josh Margolin, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by David Bolen.

Imagine being 93 years old, and after having a 70 year career in film you are given your very first leading role.  Now imagine being June Squibb (now 94) and absolutely crushing it!  This isn’t a complete surprise given the Oscar nominated nonagenarian is fantastic in pretty much everything, yet I’m sure even Squibb wouldn’t have guessed that this much deserved role would be in a revenge action comedy.  This legend of the big and small screen even gets to have her own ‘walk away from an explosion’ moment!  And no, she doesn’t look back.  Because she’s just that cool.  June Squibb stars as titular character Thelma, a film that is truly a laugh-out-loud delight.

In her 90’s, Thelma (Squibb) still lives on her own in an apartment, having lost her husband a few years prior.  She enjoys needlepoint and frequent visits from her adoring grandson, Danny (Fred Hechinger) who teaches her the ins and outs of her computer with patience and a loving smile.  They have a beautiful and close relationship.  So when she receives a call saying she needs to send $10,000 to bail Danny out of jail she doesn’t hesitate.  Soon after she finds out she has been scammed.

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However, Thelma isn’t the type of woman to just let this slide.  She may be old, but she hasn’t lost her determination.  So she visits her friend Ben (Richard Roundtree, wonderful in his final on screen performance) who lives in a retirement home, and together, on his scooter, they make their way across town to confront the thieves and get Thelma’s money back.  Unbeknownst to her daughter (Parker Posey), her husband (Clark Gregg) and even Danny, Thelma is on a mission full of seemingly small obstacles that to her pose significant danger.  She’s defied the odds before, and during this trek across Los Angeles she’s about to prove, both to herself and those around her, that she’s still capable of doing so.

Writer and director Josh Margolin gained inspiration for Thelma from his 103 year old grandmother whom he notes, “refuses to die.”  Her determined spirit is all over this film and Margolin’s deep admiration for her is clear.  It’s what takes this movie to another level.  For while Margolin’s script is full of brilliantly witty comedic moments, delivered by an impeccable cast, it also has a lot to say about what it means to be a senior.

“I didn’t expect to get so old,” Thelma notes in the film, and aging comes with so many changes; loss of friends, loss of loved ones, loss of independence – whether because of actual physical limitation or because of how we underestimate the ability of our seniors.  “I wanted to explore her fight for what’s left of her autonomy just as I was beginning to consider mine,” says Margolin.  And he does so with sensitivity and grace.  He makes sure we are never laughing at Thelma’s limitations, but that we understand them with empathy.

So, when Thelma encounters obstacles that to a person half her age would be menial, we comprehend how dangerous they can be for her.  When she’s lost friends to falling, watching Thelma balancing perilously atop a bed, or making a long trek across a field, or weaving through a cluttered store becomes just as suspenseful as watching Tom Cruise jump from building to building.  Accompanied by full-on tension building music from Nick Chuba,  Thelma truly embraces the action genre, even if some of that action is a little slower than what you might be used to viewing.

June Squibb is game for all of it, even doing most of her own stunts.  In becoming this unlikely action hero, she opens our eyes to the ageism that seniors face.  Let’s be honest, it’s a fate that befalls the luckiest among us, those that are given opportunity to age, hopefully with grace and dignity.  While our bodies may not be able to do what they once were capable of, Thelma proves that doesn’t diminish your worth.  It doesn’t mean you can’t have purpose and meaning in your life.  It doesn’t mean you can’t still have adventure.

Thelma is pitch perfect, hilarious, touching and respectful.  It was made with obvious love and heart by a man whose grandmother has great impact on his life.  He understands that she is not infallible, despite overcoming a lot of her own obstacles, but she still lives with so much enthusiasm, evidenced by a clip of her at the end (which literally brought me to tears).  It’s a beautiful testament to her spirit, and may we all carry a piece of that with us as we go on our own aging journeys.

Now, if you’re lucky enough to have them still in your life, go call your grandparents.  Tell them you love them, and that you’ll miss them.  While we’re still here.

Thelma premiered at the Sundance Film Festival January 18th, 2024 with remaining in person and online screenings sold out! For more information head to 

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