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A phone scammer gets more than he bargained for in 'Thelma'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In the movie "Inside Out 2," there's a recurring joke featuring a little old lady emotion called Nostalgia. Nostalgia is voiced by June Squibb, and it's exactly the kind of scene-stealing supporting role that she has always excelled at. June Squibb's new comedy, "Thelma," gives the 94-year-old actress her first leading role on screen. And critic Bob Mondello says she makes up for lost time.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Thelma may not be great with computers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

JUNE SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) I'm scrolling.

FRED HECHINGER: (As Danny) No, you're not scrolling. Look.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Oh.

HECHINGER: (As Danny) Look. This is scrolling.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) OK.

MONDELLO: But two years into widowhood, she's holding up pretty well.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Wait.

HECHINGER: (As Danny) What?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) The - stop fussing with it.

MONDELLO: She lives on her own in a condo in LA, enjoys watching Tom Cruise movies with Danny, her underemployed grandson.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Is that a stuntman?

HECHINGER: (As Danny) No. That's the whole thing. He does it all himself.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Wow.

HECHINGER: (As Danny) That's Cruise.

MONDELLO: Danny also gives her rides and accepts life advice about girlfriends and the like.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

HECHINGER: (As Danny) We're just in different places as people, you know? She thinks I'm stuck.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) You're too young to be stuck.

HECHINGER: (As Danny) I don't feel young.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Well, I don't feel old.

HECHINGER: (As Danny) Oy.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Oy is right.

HECHINGER: (As Danny, laughter).

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) You're going to land on your feet like Cruise.

MONDELLO: They are mutually supportive. He makes sure she wears her wrist monitor, so he'll know she's OK. But then one morning, Thelma gets a phone call.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

AUTOMATED VOICE: Hearing aid connected.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Grandma.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Grandma, it's me. Can you hear me?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Danny? You sound so strange.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I'm in jail.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Oh, my God.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Mail $10,000 to this address.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Ten thousand dollars?

MONDELLO: She gets cash from the bank and sends it and then discovers she's been scammed. Danny was home asleep. And the police are no help.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

CHASE KIM: (As Detective Morgan) They contact people at random using telephone listings and social networking sites.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Like Facebook?

KIM: (As Detective Morgan) Sure. Like Facebook.

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Well, how can Zuckemborg (ph) let this happen?

KIM: (As Detective Morgan) Sorry?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Shouldn't Zuckemborg be able to fix this?

KIM: (As Detective Morgan) Are you on Facebook?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Am I?

HECHINGER: (As Danny) No, you're not. She's not. This was a tangent..

MONDELLO: When her family starts wondering if she should really be left on her own anymore...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

CLARK GREGG: (As Alan) This wouldn't have happened a year ago. She's not as self-reliant as she was.

MONDELLO: ...Thelma turns off her hearing aid and starts plotting to get her money back. She enlists the aid and electric mobility scooter...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

RICHARD ROUNDTREE: (As Ben) Nice and easy, nice and easy.

MONDELLO: ...Of an old pal played by the late Richard Roundtree. And together, perhaps inspired by all those Tom Cruise movies, they embark on a geriatric "Mission Impossible," not so much running as briskly walking rings around her family, frantic daughter Parker Posey, son-in-law Clark Gregg, and Fred Hechinger's sweetly reliable but trickable Danny.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) My grandson's parked a block away. I don't have much time.

ROUNDTREE: (As Ben) You left your grandson in the car?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) He's 24.

MONDELLO: Filmmaker Josh Margolin based the title character on his own grandmother and is clear at every step about the frailties of age, though he's delighted to let a formidable June Squibb show how those frailties can be overcome with a bit of grit and quick wit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

ROUNDTREE: (As Ben) Why are we stopping at Mona's?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) To get a gun.

ROUNDTREE: (As Ben) Oh, my God. What do we need a gun for?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) That's - I like to be prepared.

ROUNDTREE: (As Ben) Do you even know how to use it?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Well, how hard can it be? Idiots use them all the time.

MONDELLO: Considering that Roundtree was knocking heads together in "Shaft" a full two decades before Squibb had her first supporting role on screen, she more than holds her own here, sharp and funny, whether laser-focused on the task at hand or, as is more often the case, slightly distracted.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) Oh, I think I know her.

MONDELLO: Margolin's script is an understated hoot. Nick Chuba's score a cool riff on Lalo Schifrin, and the film is arguably the most Sundance-ian (ph) comedy since "Little Miss Sunshine" - movie-savvy, down-to-Earth, relatable.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THELMA")

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) We all have our good days and our bad days.

ROUNDTREE: (As Ben) And what's today?

SQUIBB: (As Thelma Post) We'll find out.

MONDELLO: For anyone watching "Thelma," it'll be a good day. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.