Austin Film Festival Review: Jules of Light and Dark

Defeat, desire, and dreams deep in the heart of Texas

Director Daniel Laabs' bracing, borderline ethereal tale of broken hearts and busted lives in a Lone Star State small town could easily be pegged as a paean to LGBTQ outsiderness, but that’s selling one helluva good movie short shrift.

Pigeonholing this chimerical portrait of unexpected connections emerging umbilically between two, or three, vastly different people into any single staid box would be a damn shame. If anything, Jules of Light and Dark should resonate with anyone who ever felt mistreated, mistaken, or just plain messed-up, which is all of us some of the time and some of us all of the time. Life kicks your ass and you kick back if you can manage and maybe, if you’re lucky, in the end it all turns out…someway.

Tallie Medel gives a subdued but captivating performance as Maya, an opaquely hesitant, queer teen whose life takes an abrupt turn into uncharted territory when she and her kinda/sorta girlfriend Jules (Betsy Holt) end up fender-bashed by a roadside tree after an all-night bacchanal. A hero of sorts appears in the form of down-and-out oil rig worker Freddy (Sorry to Bother You’s Robert Longstreet) and rushes them to the hospital, where Jules slowly recovers from severe head trauma while Maya attempts to figure out what her “next move should be.” Longstreet is marvelous here as a man who’s lost more than he knows yet comes to realize the error of not only his ways but newfound friend Maya’s as well.

Call it a Texas-sunset coming-of-age story if you want, but Jules of Light and Dark is so much more than the sum of its parts. Less a narrative film than a consequential sequence of small-seeming but utterly important life events, this is a vital, vibrant, and beautifully honest film. Kudos, too, to director of photography Noe Merano Jr., who masterfully captures the poetic grace of twilight Texas with a calmly epic grandeur, and composer Brent Sluder, whose sweet score echoes every heartache and emotional resurrection onscreen.

Jules of Light and Dark

Wed. Oct. 31, 6pm, Stateside

Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 25 - Nov. 1. Tickets and info at

Find more of our AFF coverage, including news, reviews, and interviews, at

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Austin Film Festival 2018, AFF 2018, Austin Film Festival, Jules of Light and Dark, Daniel Laabs

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