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The saying “age is just a number” does have some truth to it — June Squibb in Thelma, anyone? The 94-year-old actress stars as the titular Thelma Post in this action movie for the ages, which is her first-ever leading film role more than three decades after supporting parts in classics like The Age of Innocence (1993), Far from Heaven (2002), and, of course, Nebraska (2013), for which she scored an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

But it’s not just that it’s a “role unlike any she’s played before,” or that it’s her most physical performance on screen yet. It’s also really good! And funny! And exciting! Basically everything you want out of an action movie star whose idea of one happens to be more along the lines of Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible. But instead we got June Squibb as Grandma John Wick.

Written and directed by Josh Margolin, Thelma premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program. It follows a 93-year-old grandmother named Thelma who becomes the target of a phone scam by callers pretending to be her grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger) in need of $10,000. After being told by the police (and then her family) that there’s no use trying to get her money back, Thelma takes matters into her own hands.

With longtime friend Ben (Richard Roundtree, making his final film appearance) at her side — well first reluctantly and then fully committed — Thelma embarks on a citywide journey against all odds to find the criminal operation responsible. Along they way they survive deus ex machina rescues and car chase sequences, eventually leading down into a finale where our girl faces off against one of them damn scammers herself.

It might sound reductive or even comical, but Thelma is a movie that really does hit all the familiar beats of a studio action blockbuster, only with real sweetness and charm. Sure, Thelma goes rogue and breaks free from her family’s supervision before showing up at Ben’s doorstep for supplies and accidentally dragging him into one last mission — complete with gadgets like high-tech hearing aids that double as communication links in the field and their getaway vehicle being Ben’s motorized scooter — but still.

And it all works! Credit to Nick Chuba for his score (which keeps everything in this world while feeling like something you’ve never heard before) and David Bolen for his cinematography (full of rich warm tones that make you feel the California sun beating down on these two), because selling this fantasy is no easy feat. The music sweeps right along with the adrenaline when it needs to, and then effortlessly scales down to something soft and delicate for more grounded scenes.

The same goes for Bolen’s lens when it comes to grounding our characters within their world while underscoring just how big Thelma’s mission really is. And since Margolin edited the film himself too, there’s an interesting effect where our elderly heroes’ movements through each scene feel fast-paced even though they’re naturally slow as hell — we’re still zipping right through everything with them.

Which could be read as comical in some instances, but in others less reductive: We’re seeing things from Thelma’s perspective here. (“I move from point to point,” she says proudly — defiantly even — about her self-reliance at a certain point.)

What is most impressive about Thelma is that, beneath the action movie cliches, it’s a very personal story. Yes, Margolin’s film shows that age can be just a number — but it really soars when it acknowledges that it isn’t. And this is where Squibb does her best work (of many great works), flexing her comedic muscles as she bumbles through selfies and Venmo one moment, then stares down — and ultimately accepts — the limits of her life and her flesh the next.

It’s fun to watch an actor fire off a gun or zip through traffic on a scooter; those are images we’ve all seen before, though. What sticks with you after “Thelma” wraps up isn’t any of those moments; it’s the shot of Squibb closing her eyes in bed, alone, ready to face whatever comes next. That moment won’t make you wonder whether you’re living your life to the fullest — it’ll make you ask if such a thing is even possible.

The problem with having Thelma undergo such a radical change is that it makes Danny’s subplot (such as it is) feel even more undercooked. Hechinger has been on his way for years now; pretty soon, he’ll be so far beyond household-name status that he’ll need Google Maps to find his way back home. But here he does subtle and lovely work opposite Squibb: He makes Danny good company right away.

But his arc doesn’t earn its ending (of him realizing he’s not worthless); indeed, it feels shoehorned in so that someone else can drive Thelma and Ben away at the end. Which isn’t to say that their relationship isn’t the heart of this movie. There have been warm movies about families before now, but rarely have we seen — not in recent memory have I seen — grandmother-grandson scenes between two actors that feel as true or as tender as these. And so, Thelma works best as a tribute to grandmothers and an admonishment to the rest of us: Life is short, so you might as well be living it.

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