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‘Thelma’ takes two vet actors on the ride of their lives

Richard Roundtree stars in his last film 

The feature directorial debut of Josh Margolin, “Thelma” is a poignant action-comedy that gives veteran Oscar® nominee June Squibb (“Nebraska”) and star of Scarlett Johansson’s upcoming directorial debut “Eleanor The Great” her first leading role and features the final performance of trailblazing actor the late Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”). 

Squibb, who did most of her own stunts in the film, plays Thelma Post, a feisty 93-year-old grandmother who gets conned by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson (“The White Lotus’”Fred Hechinger) and sets out on a treacherous quest across Los Angeles, accompanied by an aging friend Ben (Roundtree) and his motorized scooter, to reclaim what was taken from her. Parker Posey, Clark Gregg and Malcolm McDowell also star.

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BEN AND THELMA consider their mission accomplished. 

Inspired by a real-life experience of Margolin’s own grandmother, “Thelma” puts a clever spin on a movie like “Mission: Impossible,” shining the spotlight on an elderly grandmother as an unlikely action hero. 

When she gets scammed out of a lot of money because she believes her grandson (Hechinger) is in serious trouble, she realizes that she knows where these criminals are operating out of, but ignores her family’s call for slowing down due to her age.  

With infectious humor, Margolin employs the familiar tropes of the action genre in hilarious, age-appropriate ways to tackle aging with agency. In the first leading film role of her 70-year career, Squibb portrays the strong-willed Thelma with grit and determination, demonstrating that she is more than capable of taking care of business—despite what her daughter Gail (Posey), son-in-law Alan (Gregg), or grandson Danny might believe.

In the film, Roundtree accepts that he’s older and slightly diminished. He lives in a retirement home, and is more than content to enjoy melon from the dining room, classes that are offered and his upcoming lead in “Annie” as Daddy Warbucks—with few daily concerns. 

Thelma lives in her own home. However, Thelma won’t accept much help from her family, but only her grandson. And later she’ll appreciate the short computer class that he gave her. 

And as Thelma and Ben (both in their 90s) go on their adventure, Ben is an unlikely accomplice, but he is old friends with Thelma and feels the need to tag along. As well, he’s trying to protect his scooter and is livid that they had stopped to talk and Thelma didn’t engage the parking brake on the scooter, and it was smashed by a car. 

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THE LATE RICHARD ROUNDTREE and June Squibb take a frolicking ride through Los Angeles in a stance on elder rights in the film “Thelma.”

Thelma” screened at the recent Sundance Film Festival and is out in theaters on June 21. 

Said director Josh Margolin: “I actually submitted this project to [Sundance Institute’s] writing lab in a very early stage,” he recalls. “And even though it didn’t get in, I remember feeling very encouraged by the feedback. So I kept going and not only got ‘Thelma’ into the Premieres section of the 2024 Festival, it feels like an underlying mantra for the film itself.”

“Thelma” is a delightful and heartwarming film about aging, independence, and family. Margolin credits some of this creative inspiration and emotional chemistry to a previous Sundance Festival film: “‘Little Miss Sunshine’ made a big impact on me when it came out, and I still love it. I was really drawn to the fact that it was a comedy with great performances and big laughs that also had a ton of heart and style. That alchemy really resonated with me and inspired me to try to make my film work with similar ingredients.” 

He added praise for one of Black America’s first movie idols. “Anytime I gave Richard [Roundtree] a note, he’d listen quietly, take a long pause, then with a mischievous glint in his eye, he’d say, ‘Watch this.’ I loved working with him. He brought a lot of warmth to the set, and we all miss him. I’m grateful to have spent time with him while he was here.”

Take a look at the trailer and Roundtree’s infectious humor and charisma: https://youtu.be/RFAFsDEM0j4?si=DADXulrdu-I22Mqg.

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