Sundance 2024: Thelma Review

Inspired by a real-life experience his own centenarian grandmother had with over the phone scammers, writer-director Josh Margolin introduces audiences to one of the most charming action heroes of the year with Thelma. It’s a film that shows determination is just as powerful as any toned bicep.

93-year-old Thelma Post (June Squibb, in her first leading role in a career that has spanned 70 years) may not have the physical agility of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible films she watches with her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger), but she carries the same passion to bring wrongdoers to justice. A fact that becomes evident when she is duped by scammers who pretend to be Danny in distress.

Believing that her grandson has been arrested for a driving accident, and needs $10,000 in cash to cover legal expenses, the caring grandmother rushes to the bank when she is unable to get a hold of her daughter Gail (Parker Posey) or son-in-law Alan (Clark Gregg). It is only after she sends the money that she discovers Danny was sleeping safely at home when the ruse was occurring. Embarrassed about falling for the trick, and annoyed that Gail and Alan are discussing possibly putting her in a retirement home, Thelma decides to prove she still has her facilities by tracking down the assailants herself.

Despite her inability to use the internet successfully without Danny’s help, Thelma is far more capable than her family gives her credit for. She may live a quiet daily life, but she does so with dignity. Armed with only an address for where she sent the money, Thelma reluctantly accepts the assistance of her friend Ben (the late Richard Roundtree) as her plan is too much to carry out on her shoulders alone. It also helps that Ben has a two-seater scooter that they can use as transportation.


As the pair embark on their mission, Margolin uses humour to flip traditional genre tropes on its head. Tom Cruise may hang off the side of a building or outrun a sandstorm, but Thelma can do a slow roll across a bed to evade being caught redhanded. By infusing the film with age-appropriate action beats, Thelma manages to be self-aware without ever punching down on the elderly.

Although the plot may unfold in a rather conventional manner, one of the pleasant aspects of the film is that it treats the elderly characters like real people. Sure, there are jokes in which Thelma is unable to use a mouse properly or has humous conversations will fellow centenarians, that consist of whether they have met before, but her humanity remains at the forefront of the film.

By conveying Thelma’s need for independence, Margolin’s film raises several interesting points about how society tends to infantilize those senior citizens. A point that hits home when the director juxtaposes the way the family treats her and the way Gail and Alan helicopter parent Danny. However, even Thelma must learn that one cannot simply go through life alone. As Ben notes at one point, sometimes it is beneficial to have someone looking out for you, especially when you reach a certain age.

Using Thelma and Ben’s friendship to offer some poignant truths and provide the film with some of its best comedic moments, Margolin’s film is a delight. Both Squibb and Roundtree give wonderful comedic performances, with the former bringing the perfect mixture of heart and spicy resilience.


An entertaining crowd-pleaser, Thelma shows that every grandmother has their inner badass. Sometimes we get too consumed with their perceived frailty to see it.

Thelma premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Head here for more from the festival.