There are bad guys out there. Who will bring justice to this awful world? If you think Mission; Impossible is exciting, wait until you meet a nonagenarian who has been scammed in Thelma, from writer/director Josh Margolin. It really is a fun movie.
We first meet Thelma (June Squibb) as her grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) tries to help her navigate her email. They then watch a bit of the latest Mission: Impossible, noting that Tom Cruise does his own stunts. The inclusion of M:I is intentional (and with permission). It gives us a hint at where this film is headed—except as the pace of a 93-year-old protagonist.
Thelma lives alone and values her independence. When she receives a call purporting to be Daniel in a panic over being arrested and needing $10,000 for bail, Thelma sends the cash as quickly as she can. Only later does she discover that Daniel is in no trouble and she’s been scammed.
She is determined to get her money back. She begins calling friends because she doesn’t drive anymore. She discovers most of them are dead. Last on the list is Ben (Richard Roundtree, in his final film) whom she’s been ghosting. Ben has opted to live in an assisted living facility where he is perfectly happy. Thelma goes there to borrow (or steal if need be) his mobility scooter. Soon, the two of them have set off on the scooter driving across the Valley to the PO box she sent the money to. The confrontation with the scammer (another aging character, evilly played by Malcolm MacDowell) turns into a humorous showdown between two senior citizens, neither of which are nearly as spry as they once were.
Okay, so scooter chase scenes might not be quite as exciting of Tom Cruise on a train on a failing bridge or motorcycle going over a cliff. (Although at the Q&A after the Sundance premiere, it was June Squibb proudly noted that she did many of her own stunts.) Rather than heart-stopping action, Thelma gives us a different version of the search to make things safe and right in the world. Thelma and Ben’s journey is not without conflict. Thelma can be exasperating and stubborn. Ben’s practicality often becomes an obstacle for Thelma. And they must deal with the two different lifestyles they have chosen. But then, when we watch M:I, we also are enthralled by the various interpersonal relationships on the team.
Thelma and M:I are in accord that no one can do such amazing things by themselves. Ethan Hunt needs his team just like Thelma has to rely on Ben and her family (Parker Posey plays her daughter and Clark Gregg is her trying-to-be-helpful son-in-law.) She may also discover that her independence needs to be tempered. No 93-year-old is an island.