‘Thelma’: A whodunit with an aging sleuth


“Thelma” is an endearing, madcap, comic adventure with a heart of gold. 

The movie, at the M.V. Film Center, opens quietly. Danny, endearingly played by Fred Hechinger, teaches his spirited grandmother, Thelma, played with finesse by June Squibb, how to navigate email on her computer. Their repartee immediately reflects their loving relationship. Thelma boosts his faltering ego after the loss of his recent relationship. “You know computers. You have your hair … You’re going to land on your feet,” she reassures him. Danny, in turn, is honestly concerned for her fragile welfare, giving Thelma an emergency alert watch for her safety.

Thelma is no neophyte to technology, handling cell phones hooked up to hearing aids, televisions, and now a computer with surprising aplomb, all of which prove crucial as the plot thickens.

But first, we see Thelma quietly watching the news, sorting pills, making coffee, needlepointing, and puttering around the house — the mundane activities that seem to make up her routine day … until she gets a frantic phone call. 

Danny, whose voice is off because he supposedly broke his nose, relates that he is in jail, having hit a pregnant woman while driving. He tells her to do precisely what the defense attorney says when he calls. Our hearts sink as she frantically follows the attorney’s instructions to send $10,000 cash to a Post Office box. 

Needless to say, Thelma has been thoroughly scammed. Danny’s parents get involved, but the three try to make Thelma let the incident go when it seems clear. Having thrown away the address, they cannot track down the culprits. 

After seeing that Tom Cruise is still going strong in a “Mission Impossible” movie, Thelma is inspired to, on the sly, go after the crooks who stole her money. The film turns into a bit of its own “Mission Impossible” caper as she lassos in her old friend Ben, caringly played by Richard Roundtree, to help. Running away from his elder care residence, the two aged buddies are off in dangerous hot pursuit across Los Angeles, with Thelma’s frantic family not far behind, trying to stop them.

As the film unfolds, it isn’t just the older generation that struggles, but also these overprotective family members, including Danny’s neurotic mother, played by Parker Posey, and Clark Gregg, playing his annoyingly by-the-book father. 

Don’t assume that all is laughs, though. Inextricably interwoven throughout are themes of the physical, mental, and emotional challenges around aging while trying to retain self-agency.

The sense of loss is apparent as well. In searching for help, we learn how, with the exception of Ben, all Thelma’s close friends have died. And she and Ben speak of what life is like navigating without their spouses, who relatively recently passed away. 

But the two have chutzpah, indomitable spirits, and cleverly ad-lib solutions to their limitations. We can’t help but cheer them on.

Filled with action and good humor, “Thelma” is based on the real-life experience of director Josh Margolin’s grandmother. Ultimately, it is a humorous and loving meditation on aging at both ends of the spectrum — with Danny trying to find himself as he starts out, and Thelma determining what she wants with her time left.

“Thelma” is playing at the M.V. Film Center. On opening night, Friday, June 21, at 7:30 pm, there will be a Q and A with the producer, Nicholas Weinstock, via Zoom. For tickets and information, visit mvfilmsociety.com/2024/04/thelma.