Lovely little films are so difficult to find these days. JULES is one. Directed with great restraint by Marc Turtletaub from a blessedly succinct --- and terrific --- screenplay written by Gavin Steckler, JULES stars the incomparable Sir Ben Kingsley --- need I say more?
Milton (Kingsley) lives alone in a beautiful old home in a small town in western Pennsylvania. Seemingly his only excitement is attending the local town council meetings to suggest correcting the village’s motto and requesting a crosswalk at a busy intersection. All that changes when a spaceship crash lands in his backyard destroying his prized azaleas and a birdbath.
It isn’t until the alien pilot (Jade Quon) emerges and moves into his home that Milton realizes how lonely he’s become. Milton’s fading memory is a growing concern for his daughter, Denise (Zoe Winters), especially after he tells the grocery store clerk he’s buying apples for his alien houseguest.
Two fellow seniors, Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) and Joyce (Jane Curtin), who also attend the council meetings, become concerned when Milton informs the gathering about the crashed spacecraft. They think he’s making it all up until each stops by and meets the diminutive, non-speaking alien themselves. Sandy promptly names the creature Jules, while Joyce prefers Gary. Both women convince Milton that they must keep Jules hidden from the town because everyone knows what happens --- what the government will do --- to extraterrestrial beings.
JULES is completely enchanting. Those of a certain age will most definitely identify with Milton, Sandy and Joyce. Ageing can be a terrifying prospect, particularly when the issue of memory loss rears its ugly head. Steckler also addresses the problems of being alone as seniors and the difficulty of making new friends later in life. And though there are many poignant moments in JULES, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.
Kingsley, an Oscar winner, is perfectly cast as the curmudgeonly Milton. His immediate reaction to Jules is one of complete and utter kindness --- inviting the alien into his home and finding a food --- apples --- that is palatable. He’s never bothered that Jules doesn’t speak. Instead, Jules draws pictures for Milton --- pictures of cats. It will make more sense when you see JULES --- and everyone should see JULES.
Harris and Curtin are pure genius. The first time Sandy lays eyes on Jules, Harris’ reaction is immeasurable --- and hilarious. And Curtin gives Kingsley a run for his money in the curmudgeon category. These two women have had long and amazing careers and their performances here enhance the director’s vision of “lightness and cheerfulness”.
But it is the small, gray alien played by Quon who makes JULES so delightful. Though Jules never speaks and his facial expressions are limited, this gentle character elicits love from those around him --- and gives it in return. Turtletaub was adamant that the rest of the cast not watch the transformation of Quon into Jules. It was a laborious process led by Joshua Turi, head of Prosthetic Makeup, taking many hours every day, but totally worth it.
In a summer overloaded with blockbusters, JULES is a wonderful --- and welcome --- diversion. And it features a fabulous score by composer Volker Bertlemann, who recently won the Oscar for ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.
In Theaters August 11th
Opinion: See It Now!
The premise for JULES is simple enough. Three ageing adults in a small Pennsylvania community have the privilege of spending time with an alien --- not an illegal one, as is the running joke in the film --- who winds up on Earth from outer space.
Milton (Ben Kingsley) attends the town’s frequent meetings where citizens are encouraged to step up to the microphone and voice any concerns they have. At every meeting, Milton repeats the same issues that he thinks need fixing. The traffic light timing at the crosswalk between two streets needs to be increased so elderly people like him can get across safely. And the town needs to change its motto.
The meeting officials roll their eyes and chalk it up to Milton’s age. But when he adds that a spaceship has crash-landed in his backyard, it is almost too much to bear for the group. Of course, no one believes him, and that is a problem with the movie because he has all the proof to show he is not crazy, but neglects to invite anyone, including his daughter, Denise (Zoe Winters), to have a look. So as viewers we are frustrated that he fails to take this obvious step.
Nevertheless, JULES is a lot of fun. When a neighbor named Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) knocks on Milton’s door, she is aghast when she spots the alien sitting on Milton’s couch. Her reaction is priceless. After she names the alien Jules, she and Milton vow to keep their little secret to themselves. However, another acquaintance, Joyce (Jane Curtin), eventually finds out.
The thought that there may yet exist intelligent life on other planets is obviously reinforced in JULES. Jules is played silently by actress Jade Quon. It is a small miracle in makeup. But rather than the typical sci-fi trope about aliens being a threat to humanity, Jules is the exact opposite.
The movie suggests the sentiment that kindness is universal in any form. In the superb hands of Kingsley and his co-stars, JULES is a sweet story about love, the potential pitfalls of an ageing mind and the trust that we place in our fellow human beings. It is a most unusual story, penned by Gavin Steckler and directed by Marc Turtletaub, a producer on fan favorite and Oscar nominee LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006).
JULES features excellent visual effects for a small movie, and one camera shot from the perspective of Jules inside his spaceship is truly exceptional. It’s a film that should be enjoyed by anyone who has an elderly parent or grandparent. Or anyone else, really.
In Theaters August 11th
Opinion: See It Now!