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Bandwagon, 2024


Josh Margolin

Reading Time:

6 minutes

00:00 / 06:12

📷 : Pixabay



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Movies and TV shows that make you laugh, or involve urgency, like chase scenes or other physical activity


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Family dramas

Chris Chaisson


Getting scammed absolutely stinks. Being set back financially is often not even the worst part. The most regrettable aspect of it is feeling both that you are too gullible and maybe even that you lack the necessary survival skills to take care of yourself. If you’re fortunate, you rebound and get a good story out of it. For some people, it may be a breaking point or an opportunity for others to write them off entirely. Regardless, anyone who’s been bamboozled wishes they can recoup their losses, and Josh Margolin’s newest comedy Thelma allows them to live vicariously through a 93-year-old woman doing just that.

Played by June Squibb (Nebraska), Thelma is a widow in her nineties holding on to her autonomy despite her family’s concerns. She remains very close with her grandson, Daniel (Fred Hechinger, The White Lotus), who visits her frequently and looks after her. When Thelma falls for a scam and sends $10,000 to someone pretending to be Daniel, she hatches a plan to get her money back despite Daniel and his parents (Parker Posey and Clark Gregg) attempting to dissuade her. She pairs up with an old friend, Ben (Richard Roundtree, Shaft), at a local retirement home and goes on an adventure to track down the scammer.

As more roles open up for underrepresented demographics (in this case older adults), there has been a tendency to portray them as victims who need protecting. Often, older adult characters in movies get scammed or robbed and are rescued by a younger heroic figure. Similarly, many LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed as victims of hate crimes in ways where the story abandons character development and zooms in on the violence they endure. And, as has been frequently pointed out about the 2010s, moviegoers experienced a heavy dose of films surrounding slavery and civil rights. While the increased representation is a positive for marginalized groups, a common thread is them being defined by their suffering and in need of saving.

Despite being a goofy comedy with the primary objective of providing a few chuckles, Thelma bucks this cinematic trend. Rather than chalking the scam up as a loss or letting someone else track down the perpetrator, Thelma takes matters into her own hands. Aside from the understandable anger that comes with being scammed, Thelma gains motivation from overhearing her family suggest that this incident proves it is time to put her in a home. In a sense, her goal is less to retrieve $10,000 than to retain her independence. Thelma’s plan requires some ingenuity, as she must first sneak away from her overprotective family, convince Ben to tag along, and even borrow (without asking) a weapon from a doddering friend who lives alone. Through Thelma’s actions, it is clear that she is of sound mind and physically capable enough to look after herself. After all, even most young and healthy people never go through the trouble to track down their scammers (I sure as hell didn’t). 

Not only does Thelma have to overcome the expectations of her family, she must rebel against the ideas of those in her own age range as well. Ben feels perfectly comfortable being supported by others and tries to convince Thelma that she will be better off surrendering to her family’s perception of her. His character illustrates that just like other demographics, older adults are not a monolith. Some welcome the chance to be cared for while others actively reject it.

Additionally, Daniel struggles with the concept of “acting his age.” While it is clear that he genuinely loves his grandmother, he also takes great pride in caring for her. As a young adult who recently experienced a break-up, he carries with him an insecurity that he is not growing up fast enough and assuming adult responsibilities. He views looking after Thelma as a way of establishing his self-worth. His conundrum shows how our behavior and decision-making surrounding our aging relatives can sometimes be more about us than them.

Much of the film’s humor comes from poking fun at the action genre, frequently through the use of its soundtrack. Several scenes invoke music that we have gotten used to hearing in fast-paced car chases or hand-to-hand combat. Yet in Thelma, the speeding sedans and shootouts have been replaced by slow-moving motorized scooters. While the music brings to mind scenes from cult classic thrillers that contain life-and-death stakes, there is no such threat when Thelma is simply trying to bust out of Ben’s retirement home or exit the gas station unseen. Mixed in with these “action” sequences are scenes where Daniel teaches Thelma how to use social media and recurring gags involving other members and staff at Ben’s retirement home.

In addition to inducing several laughs from its audience, Thelma challenges our perceptions of those we view as feeble or incapable. While it is often out of love and concern, our assumptions can quickly become patronizing or ultimately about what we want. The film serves as a reminder to not be so quick to define what our loved ones are or decide what they should desire, but simply be there for them when the time comes. A decent comparison for Thelma is another June Squibb film from 2013, Nebraska. While less humorous, the film revolves around an older character (played by Bruce Dern) taking a road trip with his son to reclaim a prize and dodging predatory people who learn of his good fortune. Both films show how aging may make you a target but it does not have to render you helpless.

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