Producers: Zoë Worth, Chris Kaye, Nicholas Weinstock, Benjamin Simpson, Karl Spoerri and Viviana Vezzani   Director: Josh Margolin   Screenplay: Josh Margolin   Cast: June Squibb, Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, Clark Gregg, Parker Posey, Malcolm McDowell, Nicole Byer, Quinn Beswick, Coral Peña, Aidan Fiske, Bunny Levine, David Giuliani and Chase Kim   Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Grade: B

Anyone searching for a credible film about growing old in America should look elsewhere, but if a fantasy about the triumph of senior spunk will do, you could do worse than “Thelma,” in which after a long career in supporting roles June Squibb finally gets the chance, at ninety-three, to play the lead.  And it’s not as a grumpy old woman. 

In fact, Squibb’s Thelma Post is an active, cheerful sort who has a great relationship with her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger), son of her scatterbrain daughter Gail (Parker Posey) and her uptight husband Alan (Clark Gregg).  True, she’s slowed down over the last couple of years and isn’t always steady on her feet, and Danny, who’s a bit of a cheerful slacker, has been directed by his parents to drive her wherever she needs to go (that’s one thing she’s given up), but she’s far better off than the majority of her friends, who are now either gone or pretty much incapacitated.

And she’s still capable of righteous indignation, which is what she feels when she becomes the victim of a phone scam—the one where she gets a call from someone impersonating her grandson, who says he’s had an accident and is in jail, needing her to pay a lawyer to bail him out.  Unable to contact her daughter or Danny, she dutifully takes $10,000 out of her bank account and mails it to an address the lawyer gives her when she calls him, only later realizing she’s been had.  A visit to the police with Gail, Alan and Danny results in a brush-off: there’s nothing to be done.

Naturally Thelma won’t take this lying down.  She retrieves the address to which she sent the money from a trash can in the post office and sets out to find the place.  But she can’t do it alone, and the only person she can think of is her late husband’s friend Ben (Richard Roundtree), the widowed husband of an old friend who’s now living in a retirement home.  He thinks she’s gone off the deep end, but when she carjacks his mobility scooter, he reluctantly decides he’d better go with her.  Along the way they stop to steal a gun from another old friend, sadly homebound Mona (Bunny Levine), and eventually make their way to a cluttered junk store where they find Harvey (Malcolm McDowell), the owner, connected to an oxygen tank, and his grandson Michael (Aidan Fiske), who acts as his obedient gofer. 

Naturally by this time Thelma’s family are in frantic pursuit, with Danny blaming himself—he’s consoled by Allie (Coral Peña), a girl he’s infatuated with but has put their relationship on hold, but it’s not enough—and his parents conferring with a detective (Chase Kim, as well as Rochelle (Nicole Byer) and Colin (Quinn Beswick), the managers at Ben’s retirement home, all to little effect.  It’s Thelma and Ben who resolve things and return blithely on their own.

Writer-director Josh Margolin indulges in stereotypes about seniors—Thelma is entirely dependent on Danny for computer savvy, for instance (and Harvey is equally so on Michael)—and he enjoys poking fun at Ben’s home via gags regarding a performance of “Annie” being put on by the residents (he’s playing Daddy Warbucks, at has to be back by eight).  But he plays it all with a light touch and without ever demeaning people: Ben’s friend Starey Gary (David Giuliani) and Mona are treated sympathetically but not sentimentally, and in the end Gail and Alan, played almost cartoonishly by Posey and Gregg, are the goofiest characters around.  He also includes a jokey comparison of resolute Thelma to Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, but again doesn’t do it with a slapstick sledgehammer.

And he’s blessed in the pairing of Squibb and Roundtree, who exhibit a camaraderie that’s immensely appealing; and when you add likable Hechinger to the mix as a still-unfocused kid with whom he grandmother shares a mutual adoration, the result is charming.  The pace he sets with cinematographer David Bolen (Margolin also serves as editor) is agreeably relaxed, and though the L.A. production design (Brielle Hubert) and costumes (Amanda Wing Yee Lee) are strictly functional, Nick Chuba’s score, complete with nods to Lalo Schifrin, has an appropriately upbeat, old-fashioned vibe.   

One can imagine a version of “Thelma” that would have careened on that scooter into the realm of sheer zaniness, but although Margolin’s movie is hardly an exercise in realism, it avoids becoming an antic farce.  Sweet and genial with a touch of poignancy, it’s an understated tribute to the resilience and desire to retain a degree of independence that mark most seniors’ emotional makeup.