Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Josh Margolin directs the irrepressibly feel good film “Thelma”. The story’s events are highly improbable in their progression, but the film is almost supernaturally boosted by the glib one-liners of its star: the now-93-year-old character actor June Squibb. She carries the film with spirit and verve, giving the silliness of action empathy and importance. Almost in spite of itself, “Thelma” is a genuine crowdpleaser.

Thelma (June Squibb) lives alone in Los Angeles trying to understand a computer’s mouse and spending time with her slacker grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger). One day, Thelma gets a phone call that her grandson has been in a horrific accident. Hearing the voice of Daniel needing surgery, she agrees to wire him $10,000. In a panic, she puts an envelope of cash in a mailbox. Then she hears from her family who tells her it is a definite hoax.

She is beyond embarrassment. Catching sight of actor Tom Cruise in a newspaper, Thelma vows to get her money back from the scammer.

She drives to a convalescent home to ask her friend Ben (Richard Roundtree) for help. Ben gives her a motorized scooter. They hit the road to see another friend Mona (Bunny Levine) hoping that they can convince her to loan them a gun.

Mona has Alzheimer’s, so the two procure her revolver relatively easily with the added sight gag of roaches. Soon they are on their way to revenge.

All events happen as if by rote. Thelma’s daughter (Parker Posey) and her anal-retentive husband (Clark Gregg) are on the hunt for wayward stubborn Mom.

In relatively short time, aside from a rest to charge up the red scooter and an unfortunate fall, Thelma confronts the bank account scammer: a lethargic Harvey (Malcolm McDowell) with an oxygen tank who is about as formidable as a teddy bear. Thelma seizes Harvey’s oxygen tubes as if they are reins from a horse.

She means business.

The acting is solid and the momentum is breezy. All episodes are treated tepidly though in the manner of a cartoon. The situations feel a bit too light at times. Posey’s and Gregg’s characters are thinly drawn.

That being said, Squibb in the lead shines through with energy and honesty and you won’t be able to withhold some chuckles if not up-bubbling guffaws during the shenanigans. There is also some poignance in the roles of Daniel and Ben, highlighting their importance to Thelma, regarding aging and time’s swift passage.

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