I’m racking my brain, and I think the 93-year-old Squibb (she’s 94 now) just might be the oldest actor to play the protagonist in any movie I’ve ever seen. She’s absolutely magnetic as Thelma — charming, loving, curious, and funny. Squibb has been acting for more than 70 years (she was previously nominated for an Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role in Alexander Payne’s 2013 film “Nebraska”), but this is her first starring role, and she rises to meet the moment. It’s the kind of performance where you can’t take your eyes off her. She’s fully dialed in; every single choice she makes as an actor feels like the exact right one.
While Tom Cruise sprints across rooftops and leaps across chasms in the “Mission: Impossible” movies, Squibb brings the same stubborn determination to her performance here — only Thelma’s “stunts” are much more mundane. Thankfully, Margolin doesn’t overplay this aspect of the movie. It’s not shot like an action film, or stylized for laughs. Nick Chuba’s jazzy score certainly recalls the music of the classic spy franchise, but the closest this film comes to a spy operation is an amusing set piece in which Richard Roundtree’s Ben serves as the Simon Pegg to Thelma’s Cruise, utilizing her hearing aid to guide her through a series of obstacles.
This is Squibb’s movie, but her co-stars are no slouches, either. Posey and Gregg bring solid comedic timing, Roundtree is fantastic, brimming with life and humanity, and Hechinger does a lot with a somewhat underwritten character, bringing a soft tenderness to the role of Danny. His character shares the strongest bond with Thelma, and it eventually becomes a two-pronged tale of development for both of them; they both feel boxed in and want to break free, and the movie ends up being about how independence may not the best way to live — community and connection are crucial.
Sweet, charming, and uplifting, “Thelma” is a joy to watch. It’s the type of movie that will make you want to call your grandparents.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10