Ahhhhh. Let’s all take a collective breath in this summer season of marketing blitzes and blockbusters, and give a little love to Jules. It’s a bizarre, quirky and heartwarming sci-fi indie reminiscent of ET— if ET had landed in a sleepy retirement community in western Pennsylvania. Sir Ben Kingsley plays Milton, a septuagenarian widower whose lonely existence and mundane routine is upended when a UFO crash lands into his backyard, crushing his azaleas. A mute extra-terrestrial (Jade Quon) emerges from the spaceship and Milton takes him in as a roommate. Milton is inclined to keep mum about his houseguest, nicknamed “Jules.” But two of his nosier (and equally bored) neighbors (Jane Curtin and Harriet Sansom Harris) get wind of Jules’ existence and, once the initial shock wears off, grow quite fond of the little guy. The women end up working with Milton to protect Jules from the townsfolk, and from government agents hot on his trail. The mission gives the aging trio a newfound sense of purpose, companionship and joy.
The totally absurd premise– and a twist that’s sure to make pet lovers squirm– would likely never fly in lesser hands. But director Marc Turtletaub (Puzzle) and his veteran lead actors artfully thread the comedy-drama needle to deliver a seriously witty and charming flick with poignant messages about aging, loneliness, diminished capacity, family and community. Jules opens in select theaters on August 11. I suspect it might get lost amid the Barbieheimer and horror movie hubbub. So keep an eye out. And hopefully it hits the streamers sooner rather than later.
Arty Chick’s take: I’m with Mainstream Chick on this one. It is a quirky little movie well worth watching.
Milton’s dementia is front and center at the opening of the film and I was afraid it was going to be a sad story. You meet him at a town council meeting where he’s asking for a crosswalk and for them to rethink the town’s motto. His neighbors are rolling their eyes at his brief plea because, as becomes clear, he does the same thing over and over. And after the crash, no one believes him when he asks for help – not the 911 operator, or the checkout guy at the grocery, not his daughter who is already concerned about his declining mental health, and certainly not the others at the council meeting when he adds that alien spacecraft tidbit to his usual talk. But neighborly concern does lead Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) to check up on him and to discover that he was not lying at the last council meeting. And seeing that Milton and Sandy are hanging out together causes Joyce (Jane Curtin) to snoop and find out about the alien.
What I loved about the film is that Jules (or Gary as Joyce decides to call him) brings out the confessional in each of them. He doesn’t respond to them, but his presence allows them to be freer than they’ve been with themselves and leads to bonding with the other two. Watching Jane Curtin singing her heart out to “Free Bird” is a highlight. It’s a small gem of film, well-directed, with another wonderful performance by Kingsley that I do hope people seek out.
In theaters August 11.