San Diego's Morning News with Ted and LaDona

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At The Movies With Josh: Thelma

There have been a lot of disappointing action movies this year. The one that surprised me the most was “The Beekeeper.” That’s because it was so bad, yet so many critics liked it. In it, an old lady is scammed out of her life savings, and her neighbor (Jason Statham) hunts down the bad guys and disposes of ‘em.

This is more my speed. Wait, that’s the wrong choice of words. Watching an old lady and her friend trying to hunt down the guys that scammed her, on an electric scooter…it’s all the other things this movie did that were so enjoyable.

I’ve been a fan of June Squibb’s work even before she got her Oscar nomination for “Nebraska;” a movie with a similar theme, as Bruce Dern is convinced he won a million dollars when he sees the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes saying “You could already be a winner.” He drives his old truck to Nebraska to collect the cash.

Ten years before that movie, she did “About Schmidt” with Jack Nicholson. And among the many films she’s done, I liked seeing her pop up in the comedy “Palm Springs” a few years ago, and last week as “Nostalgia” in the disappointing “Inside Out 2.”

Squibb, at 94-years-old, has a starring role here. Her co-star is Richard Roundtree (Shaft) in his last film role. He plays her partner in crime, whose scooter was commandeered to go get her money back.

The film starts with some very humorous and touching scenes with Thelma and her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger). She’s amazed at all the running Tom Cruise can do in the Mission: Impossible films. She is also perplexed with how to block ads from her computer that pop up. Watching Danny be so patient with her, as he laments the loss of a girlfriend, is satisfying on numerous levels.

It’s amazing to think this is the first feature from Josh Margolin (Deep Murder), and he based it on his own grandmother.

Thelma gets a phone call from a man posing as an attorney, and a young man claiming to be Danny. They need money for a car accident that injured a pregnant woman, and Thelma is convinced to send them cash.

One of the smart things Margolin does is not make it too unrealistic. She doesn’t just take the money and send it. She tries calling her grandson, and her daughter, to figure out what the best thing to do is. They just didn’t answer their phones [side note: that doesn’t mean there’s nothing unrealistic about how things play out in this story, but it’s so enjoyable, you let those things slide].

It’s also smart that Thelma isn’t just a caricature. Squibb gives an understated performance, and while we sometimes laugh at her old lady antics (always talking to strangers, thinking she knows them), there is just enough vulnerability and toughness, to make this feel like a real person. And the humor mined here isn’t from old people acting silly. Well, there is some of that with senior citizens we meet along the way, but the two main characters have cute gallows humor that works well.

Danny’s overbearing parents are played by Parker Posey, and Clark Gregg. She’s a bit of a neurotic worrier, but he has some fun zingers. It’s also a blast how they keep going back to Souplantation jokes.

It’s also interesting how the two main characters talk about where they’re at in life. Roundtree seems to like his old folks home, with a variety of classes, a swimming pool, and the production of “Annie”, where he’s playing Daddy Warbucks. Even if that means the senior citizen playing Annie can’t get her lines down.

They also sometimes get sad thinking about the ones they loved, that are no longer around.

There’s an interesting score by Nick Chuba (Shogun) that throws in some flutes and bongos and gives the slow-speed chases some punch.

The cinematographer made L.A. look beautiful, much like how the opening shots of “Nightcrawlers” did.

So far, this movie is in my Top 5 of the year. You can enjoy it with the whole family (including grandma). Might be educational for them, too. Phone and computer scams keep getting more and more complex.

4 stars out of 5.

Photo: Getty


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