• Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

With the tragic losses of Bea Arthur and Bettie White, it seems that June Squibb is quietly poised to take their place as our sweet little old cultural grandma. As such, I was perplexed and disappointed to hear that June Squibb’s appearance in Inside Out 2 wasn’t more heavily promoted. And I was confused as hell to see that she only got four lines in the whole freaking movie.

So here’s Thelma, with Squibb exec-producing and sitting comfortably at the top of the call sheet. She plays the eponymous Thelma, a 93-year-old woman who’s been living alone ever since her husband passed a couple years ago. She’s tech-illiterate, but she’s doing her best to learn her way around computers. She’s mentally clear and she’s capable of moving around without assistance. Unfortunately, things go sideways when Thelma falls victim to a phone scam and gets tricked into sending $10,000 in cash by mail to an unknown PO Box. The police are obviously no help, so Thelma sets out to find the scammers and get her money back. Hilarity ensues.

First of all, I want to point out that Thelma does take the common sense precaution of trying to contact her family to try and confirm whether her grandson really does need that bail money. Yet her daughter (Gail, played by Parker Posey), her son-in-law (Alan, played by Clark Gregg), and her grandson (Daniel, played by exec producer Fred Hechinger) all fail to answer repeated phone calls from Thelma, so I’d put some measure of responsibility on the whole family.

But far more importantly, I blame Thelma’s bank. The movie glosses over how Thelma actually got the $10,000 in cash, kind of implying that she had that money stashed around the house — no fucking way. And I know we never see Thelma going to her bank to demand a massive cash withdrawal in a hurry, because if she did, so many red flags would’ve been thrown up that the movie would be over then and there. Bullshit hath been called.

Also, without getting too deep into spoilers, we do eventually get to meet the mastermind behind this scam. And it isn’t a call center in India or some guy in his basement in Nigeria, he’s played by Malcolm McDowell. To my understanding, this is not how phone scams are typically organized or operated… but it’s still plausible. More importantly, it’s a better fit for the themes the filmmakers want to explore and the story they’re trying to tell. So we’ll let it slide.

The central issue here is that Thelma is a stubborn old coot. She refuses to acknowledge that she’s slowing down, despite or perhaps because of all the numerous illnesses and surgeries she’s lived through (double mastectomy following breast cancer, to start with). Thelma refuses to acknowledge that she’s not as sharp as she used to be, even after a few notable incidents with amnesia. She treasures her independence, even as she openly mourns the fact that her husband and nearly all of her friends are long since dead.

Put simply, Thelma is a case of stubborn pride. She refuses to acknowledge that she needs any kind of help. She refuses to accept that shit happens. Case in point: Yes, it sucks that she got duped into sending the ten grand, but these are scammers — duping people is what they do, it’s all they’re good at. And while the sensible thing would be to take the loss and move on, Thelma is more concerned with what’s right than what’s sensible. I need hardly add that the contrast between Thelma’s bullheaded optimism and the harsh reality fuels much of the film’s humor.

As funny and heartfelt and thought-provoking as June Squibb’s performance is, the supporting cast is truly remarkable. I genuinely love how everyone in the supporting cast, in one way or another, contributes to the plot and serves to advance the greater themes. There’s a character named “Starey Gary” (David Giuliani) whose whole deal is that he sits catatonic while staring blankly into the middle distance, and even he gets some genuine laughs and surprising plot contributions. And I’m so deeply sorry I can’t go into detail about Malcolm McDowell’s character, because he serves as a foil and a contrast to Thelma in some truly inspiring and brilliant ways.

Though I can talk about Mona (Bunny Levine), another old woman living on her own in a massive house with nobody but roaches for company. She serves nicely as a kind of “Ghost of Christmas Future” for Thelma, an unsettling premonition for what Thelma could become if she insists on continuing to live alone. Contrast that with Ben (the late Richard Roundtree), who insists on joining Thelma’s journey in exchange for the use of his top-of-the-line scooter. Ben is living in a retirement home, still keeping active, still learning and growing with the company of other seniors. Much as Thelma finds the notion appalling, Ben’s making it work.

Then we’ve got Thelma’s family. Daniel has stepped up to be Thelma’s primary caregiver, so he’s taking it especially hard that Thelma went missing on his watch. Especially since Daniel is otherwise a Gen-Z slacker who doesn’t seem to have the skills or know-how to keep a job or a girlfriend. There’s a particularly moving scene in which Daniel expresses how utterly useless he feels, incapable of doing anything or being of any service for anyone. It was genuinely moving to see Daniel and Thelma presented as two sides of the same coin like that, demonstrating how anyone of any age can feel helpless.

Funny enough, it’s Daniel who gets to convey the film’s central thesis statement when he sees an errant poster at Ben’s retirement home: “Asking for help is a show of strength.”

Speaking of which, it disappoints me that nobody thought to suggest that Daniel could get a job at a nursing home. Seriously, dude, you’re great at dealing with old people and that’s a genuinely marketable skill. You could at least put in some time volunteering, schools and employers love to see that on a resume!

Anyway, Daniel stands in marked contrast to his parents, both of whom are uptight to the point of suffocating. Gail and Alan are the type of people who are fundamentally incapable of doing nothing. They always have to be helpful and get involved in everyone’s business to a domineering extent, holding on to everything so tightly that something inevitably slips through their fingers. I hate them both.

I love Parker Posey, I love Clark Gregg, I get what they were going for with these characters, but it simply does not work. These characters are too annoying to be funny and too useless to be in the movie. Every time they got sidetracked into bickering over some pointless unrelated minutiae, I didn’t find it amusing or endearing, I just desperately wanted a nice big roll of duct tape. Though they do at least help to explore the overarching theme of stubborn pride, so there’s that.

Even so, I found Thelma to be delightfully charming. It’s sincerely funny, with many valuable insights into growing older and getting the support you need no matter how old you are. Major kudos to writer/director Josh Margolin — here making his feature debut! — for pulling the heartstrings and finding humor in such unlikely and difficult material. But of course June Squibb and all the marvelous supporting players deserve no shortage of credit either. And what a wonderful note for Richard Roundtree to go out on.

This is definitely one to look out for. You won’t be missing anything if you wait for home video, but do not let this one escape your notice.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

Leave a Reply