‘Jules’: This small-town sci-fi flick has eccentric, arthouse choices, laughs, and plenty of heart

“Jules” (2023) – “E.T. phone home.” – E.T., “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

“I think that we ought to change our town slogan.  ‘A great place to call home’ is confusing.  I suggest, ‘A great place to refer to as home.’” – Milton Robinson (Ben Kingsley), “Jules”

Milton’s home is Boonton, a modest Western Pennsylvania community, and this 78-year-old John Q. Citizen doesn’t travel very far – to the town council – to lend his suggestions for the municipality.  He lives a simple life, but early signs of Alzheimer’s complicates it greatly and draws concern from his daughter Denise (Zoe Winters). 

Milton is concerned too. 

However, a visitor from another planet, an actual alien, muddles his world even further when a spaceship lands in Milton’s backyard and on top of his azaleas.

Director Marc Turtletaub’s (“Puzzle” (2018)) “Jules” might not carry Steven Spielberg’s pomp and circumstance, but this small-town sci-fi flick – with eccentric, arthouse choices, laughs, and plenty of heart – is a winning encounter at your local cinema. 

In fact, “Jules” – in some ways – takes opposite approaches from “E.T.”, including senior citizens – not children – finding life from outer space.  Turtletaub and screenwriter Gavin Steckler also create a few oddball surprises that buck any suggestion that this film is mainstream.  However, ultimately, “Jules” becomes an endearing experience, as it leans into growing older, family, and altruistic intentions from the two leads, Milton and Earth’s new guest, Jules (Jade Quon), an androgynous 5-foot grayish-bluish being. 

Kingsley generously gives the soft-spoken Milton an accessible vulnerability for the audience.  The general townsfolk don’t take him very seriously due to, perhaps, agism but mainly because of his forgetful nature, especially when he repeatedly raises the same issues, about the local slogan or a needed crosswalk, at the Boonton Town Hall.  He has value, but typical Boontonians generally don’t see it.

Milton (Ben Kingsley)

However, Milton’s gentle nature and medical concerns make his backyard the perfect spot for Jules, an extra-terrestrial who hides in plain sight while he repairs his flying saucer. 

In our reality, just about every UFO sighting (conveniently) occurs in uninhabited locales, where witnesses can be counted on one hand.  More like one finger, so corroboration is generally nonexistent, although the 1997 Phoenix Lights phenomenon is a notable exception, but I digress.

The fun and dramatic tension play on the contrast between Milton’s safe haven and potentially intrusive locals – or worse yet, the U.S. Government – discovering Jules because who knows what emotional and physical probes the U.S.A. will inflict on our lead’s new tenant.   

An I-hope-no-harm-comes-to-Jules dynamic is welcomingly ever-present over the movie’s thrifty 87-minute runtime, and Quon’s performance is captivating, as Jules doesn’t speak while carrying docile, friendly intentions.  There’s almost a robotic quality to this E.T., but Milton and the audience comprehend Jules’ expressions via temperate movements through his or her slight frame or calming facial looks.

Jules is also lonely, a theme that emerges in unexpected places for our new intergalactic tourist, Milton, and two other senior citizens, Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) and Joyce (Jane Curtin), who suddenly become part of Mr. Robinson’s life.

Denise (Zoe Winters) and Milton (Kingsley)

All four have loneliness in common, which makes “Jules” a relatable story about making connections and enacting noble gestures.  At times, “Jules” has no accompanying score, as the discourse – on its own – between Milton, Sandy, Joyce, and Jules is plenty to raise our cinematic interest.  Then again, orchestrator Jan Andrees and the music department make timely entrances for moving melodies to tap into our emotions.

Turtletaub and Steckler offer diverse ideas here, as they overlay their film with melancholy themes and a couple of outright weird brainstorms, including a supporting character embarrassingly breaking into song.  “Jules” certainly has much to say in less than 90 minutes, and it’s worth a listen…and a look. 

Move over Elliott.  Meet Milton.

⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Marc Turtletaub

Written by:  Gavin Steckler

Starring:  Ben Kingsley, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jane Curtin, Zoe Winters, and Jade Quon

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  87 minutes

Image credits: Bleecker Street

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