Gentle Jules Contemplates Life, Extraterrestrial and Otherwise

Ben Kingsley leads a small but stellar cast in sweet slice of sci-fi.

Early in Jules, a spacecraft crash lands in senior Milton Robinson’s (Ben Kingsley) backyard, putting the older man face to face with a variation on the classic grey alien trope (Jade Quon, in a simple but effective creature suit). The movie has a running gag in which Milton acts far more put out by the ship’s damage to his flowerbed than by encountering proof of humanoid life existing somewhere besides Earth.

If that strikes the viewer as more of a slight smile kind of joke than a knee-slapper, that’s ok. Jules isn’t especially interested in delivering guffaws or the typical thrills of alien encounter films. Gavin Steckler’s script and Marc Turtletaub’s direction has far more Earth-bound and philosophical concerns on the brain.

An Aging Trio

Jules (Bleecker Street)
(Bleecker Street)

With the arrival of an alien in his life, Milton finds himself connecting to his town’s other two prominent independent elders, Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris) and Joyce (Jane Curtin). Previously, they interacted most while waiting in line to complain at town meetings. The trio hasn’t so much pulled back from the world as they’ve watched the world leave them behind. The alien, named “Jules” by Sandy (although Joyce insists on calling the being Gary and Milton refuses to see the purpose of any name at all), puts them at the forefront of a new era in human existence.

In another of the film’s sly gags, no one notices Jules because almost no one notices the seniors anymore. Even as a shadowy government agency hunts for the ship, Milton can go around town untouched, telling people he’s buying apples to feed his new alien friend. 

The only real response comes from his daughter Denise (Zoe Winters) who expresses mild concerns about his mental health. Even under high-tech government surveillance, the aged live mostly invisible lives.

Let’s Keep It Light

Jules (Bleecker Street)
(Bleecker Street)

As a metaphor, Jules can break pretty bleak. Most of us have some uncomfortable feelings tied up in the idea of growing older. The idea of being forgotten and ignored while still alive ties in with that. Jules doesn’t shy away from these themes. One character tries to ignore evidence their cognitive functions are slipping. Another faces a scam/home invasion. The third is holding on to a beloved, but very sick, pet so hard because it is the only living thing still paying attention to them.

But the film never slogs. Turtletaub’s direction isn’t visually spectacular, but its simple buoyancy gives Jules a constant hum of comforting energy. The actors also help stave off the darkness. Kingsley gives Milton an irascibility that makes him frustrating to Denise but keeps him entertaining for an audience. Harris has a sweet, gentle (there’s that word again) disposition that never slips, even while discussing his late husband’s difficult last days.

In the smallest of the three roles, Curtain does the most. Though first prickly as Milton, she thaws around the alien. She regales him/it with tales of her time in “the city”—later revealed as Pittsburg in a legitimate laugh moment—and hints at what might be darker youth than her romantic reminiscing suggests. However, her showcase moment, which might also be the film’s high point, finds her singing “Freebird” increasingly defiantly over a karaoke beat. In that moment, the audience sees the person she was in her 20s, 30s, and 40s: the woman living hard in Pittsburg who then ran to the suburbs to save herself.

As Jules/Gary, Quon has to do all her acting under a suit while mute. Still, with only a handful of gestures and skin that occasionally grows darker or lighter, she wins the audience over. As one character observes, “There’s such understanding in his eyes.” While they’re just shiny black orbs, the rest of Quon’s performance makes one believe they’d likely feel understood, too.

Do I Stay or Do I Go Now?

Jules (Bleecker Street)
(Bleecker Street)

Eventually, Jules arrives at the question it’s been building to throughout. When you know that mostly sadness and pain await you where you are, do you stay or run away? While the script doesn’t leave room for Sandy or Joyce to wrestle with that, how it aids Milton in reaching a decision is understated but emotionally satisfying. Jules/Gary similarly finds an interesting way not to get trapped by the question.

It’s strange to see Jules released in theatres in this era, especially in August. This time of year, studios usually hope that people’s hunger for air conditioning overwhelms their ability to read the reviews of dumb would-be blockbusters. Jules is both too quiet and too good to fit in with that crowd. For a movie about aliens, it has only basic special effects and features no major action setpieces. 

Still, as “Summer Movie Season” has extended its grasp into April, perhaps Jules can find an audience in August. If Hollywood decided to make this month a time for intelligent, small films that might also benefit from that air conditioning bump, well, that seems as lovely as a very brief flight in a spacecraft with the nicest alien.

Jules slips on a novelty tee and enjoys some apple slices in theatres beginning August 11.

Rating: 7/10 SPECS

We've got the latest on all the movies in theaters now.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse,, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.